Martin O’Neill has revealed that he is leaning towards “staying local” by basing his squad in Britain or Ireland in the run-up to Euro 2016.
“What we’re looking at, although nothing has been set in stone yet, is actually staying relatively local,” said the manager. “We’ve had the opportunity to go to a couple of places, Austria and somewhere else, but, knowing that the weather is going to be really brilliant here in Dublin, we thought that we might stay relatively local — local meaning (here or) within the UK. That’s what we’re looking at, rather than changing three or four different times.
“We would go to France five days before the first game and we’re looking at that period beforehand and actually in the build-up to the Holland game (on May 27) as well.”
Although options in Europe are still on the table, one of the reasons a pre-tournament home closer to home is under serious consideration is that it would allow the players greater flexibility in terms of getting one or two days off to see their families.
“For instance, when we come here to the Castleknock Hotel and when we were at Portmarnock, I didn’t mind the players’ wives and families (coming over),” the manager explained. “Like, Robbie Brady’s family would come in, sit down, and have a cup of tea. It was never really a problem. And I think if they were seeing their families relatively close to when we’re going away, there would be less pining once we get out into the main business.”
While some players were critical of the protracted build-up to Euro 2012 under Giovanni Trapattoni, O’Neill is at pains to avoid criticising his predecessor, noting that long periods spent in camp are the norm in Italian football.
As to consulting his own players about the management’s plans, O’Neill said, “if I was going to speak to any of the players I’d speak to the captain and vice-captain,” he said, adding with a grin, “and if they disagreed with me, too bad.”
While preparations are accelerating on all fronts for the summer — the manager and his staff are due to meet again this week — O’Neill feels time is still very much on his side in terms of the crucial form and injury issues which will inform his selection of the final squad of 23.
On the need for contenders like Everton’s Darron Gibson, who got a rare outing in the FA Cup at the weekend, and Aiden McGeady to get more game time, O’Neill reiterated his hope that both could be in line for a loan move in the current transfer window. “I think it would be better for all if they go, and I don’t think he (Roberto Martinez) would disagree with it,” he said.
On the somewhat fluid goalkeeping front, it sounds like Newcastle’s Rob Elliot is rapidly moving up the pecking order, although as O’Neill pointed out: “We’re talking here at the end of first week of January, it’s not reached a crisis point by any stretch of the imagination and a lot of things could happen, but obviously Shay (Given) is out injured at this moment and has been now for some time. Darren (Randolph) came in and did very well indeed.
“ I went to see young Elliot against Arsenal; remarkably he didn’t have a great deal to do in the match. Seamus (McDonagh) has seen him a number of times and thinks he’s doing very, very well, so the situation is that if the Euros were in the next couple of weeks, the decisions nearly take care of themselves. But there is time. Darren has done well and, again, he might think too about the possibility of maybe trying to get some first team football.”
As for Seamus Coleman, currently out for up to a month with a calf injury, O’Neill said: “If there’s a time to get an injury maybe it’s now. That’s not to say that players won’t have total and utter commitment now. If Everton get through to the League Cup final, Seamus will be desperate to play in that. But I know Seamus’ commitment to our cause is second to none anyway.”
In general, O’Neill said he is currently in “a worry-free zone — but from March onwards, I’ll really start worrying”. Stressing that he is not imposing any hard deadlines, he suggested the back-to-back March friendlies against Slovakia and Switzerland could prove the last realistic chance for a fringe or untried player to emulate James McClean in 2012 by pressing a late claim for inclusion in the travelling party to France.
Having made his debut for Brighton at the weekend, Richie Towell could yet turn out to be this year’s model.
“Well, with James, I know this from the time because I was there at Sunderland and he came right through,” said O’Neill. “He hadn’t been involved but from Christmas onwards he made a big, big impact at club level (and) carried it through then. I always think there’s room for (something like that). I can’t dismiss it anyway.
“But I would say that if there was a chance of anybody trying to come through, maybe the March games are the ones. I don’t want to close it off but it might be very difficult, very difficult indeed, if someone after March came through and, let’s say he was only 19 or 20, looked a really fine prospect, but had no international experience — I’m not saying I would exclude it but that might become more difficult, that sort of decision.”
O’Neill who along with Roy Keane was in Dublin at the weekend to attend the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers awards ceremony, had a brief meeting with FAI boss John Delaney on Friday where it was agreed they would soon sit down to discuss a new contract for the manager. “I think he wants to get things moving” said O’Neill. “Nothing has been talked about but he said we would sit down over the next couple of weeks, which we intend to do.”
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