Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has warned his players that the clash against Latvia does not take on less significance because it is a friendly.
O’Neill takes charge of the Republic for the first time at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow night.
With neither side having qualified for next year’s World Cup in Brazil, the players could be forgiven for thinking underperforming would not have serious repercussions.
However, O’Neill has a steely determination to succeed and the Latvia encounter represents far more than a launching pad for his reign.
He said: “I don’t want the players to treat these like friendly games. I told them that last night.
“These are very, very important. It’s a bit like I would have treated pre-season, which was all about the players getting fit.
“If I was going into a club for the first time, the first time I was meeting the players was in pre-season, then pre-season became very important.
“They became big games because I have to make judgements on players. That’s exactly how I see these games coming up. They may not be competitive in terms of picking up points, but they are very important.”
O’Neill sat alongside skipper Robbie Keane and warmly approved of the 33-year-old’s diplomacy when asked to compare the respective styles of the current manager and the man he replaced: Giovanni Trapattoni.
The Ulsterman, returning to a theme which made for newspaper headlines earlier this week, said to Keane: “I’m pleased you answered in that fashion.
“I see this all too often in the past, where a manager has left a football club, a new manager comes in and what you normally get is a couple of the players who haven’t participated in recent times under the previous manager saying, ’life is great again, absolutely fantastic, a breath of fresh air’, and those same players are playing in the reserves a fortnight later.
“From that aspect, nothing changes. I think I left a club and some player was interviewed and said the manager had his favourites. Yes, I did, they were generally the best players.
“Trapattoni did brilliantly. He’s been a great manager all his life. Slightly better than (former Sunderland boss Paolo) Di Canio.
“It’s never been bothering me, that. Like you wouldn’t believe. Sorry, it’s grand now. That was just to make you (journalists) laugh.”
The response to the appointment of O’Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane has been hugely positive, although the 61-year-old insists his honeymoon period will last only so long.
Asked if he had yet been able to go out and about and meet people, he replied: “Bobby (Ward), who is head of security, has been looking after me for the last few days.
“I said to him, ’I don’t want you looking after me now Bobby, everything’s fine. It’s after we lose a few games that you should be looking after me’.
“It’s been great, it’s been absolutely fine, but I’m well aware that this is the 10-minute honeymoon you get.”