Monitoring players, scouting new ones, finalising his backroom team and looking into the possibility of a pre-World Cup friendly or two in the United States — all of this and more will be on Martin O’Neill’s agenda between now and Ireland’s next game, at home to Serbia, in March.
One month before that, the new manager will also learn Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifying destiny when the draw takes place in Nice in February. But, for now, in the aftermath of his first two games in charge, it’s all about getting to grips with the more routine aspects of international football management.
“I will be watching a lot of games,” he said. “I am hoping to be over in Dublin in the next week or 14 days to get a couple of days with John [Delaney] and maybe see the backroom staff and that sort of stuff. There’s a few things to organise but generally speaking it will be football matches where the lads will be playing so that, let’s say by March, I can form a really strong opinion on the players and maybe” — he added with a grin — “find out just what position [Marc] Wilson might end up playing in, you know.”
A novelty for the rookie international boss is that, for the first time, he finds himself attracted by the idea of end-of-season summer friendlies.
“As a club manager, I must admit, I thought, ‘What are they up to, the boys should be lying on a beach’,” he said. “Now I am going to reverse it completely and say to them, ‘What were they ever thinking of?’ Obviously as the games in September come closer, I am starting to look at it from that viewpoint because there are only so many times that you can get them together.
“There’s a game in March coming up and then the next time will be some time in summer. If the games that we could organise were really meaningful then it might be interesting. But I am also totally aware of players at the end of the season being absolutely drained.”
Immediately after Tuesday night’s scoreless draw with Poland in Poznan, O’Neill had quipped he’d be suffering such intense withdrawal systems with the closing of the international window that he might be tempted to phone players before the end of this week.
Subsequently reflecting on the point, he said that while he doesn’t “want to make a nuisance of myself”, he does intend to keep the lines of communication open between the management and the players.
“They have club commitments now. You can imagine it — it’s been terrific in the dressing room and the boys have been great but now, from the minute they’ve touched down, they will be tuned into club football.”
As indeed will O’Neill and Roy Keane, as they seek to keep tabs on the all the players in the squad, including some — such as Paul Green of Leeds United — with whom, the manager admitted, he would not have been overly familiar before the midfielder’s impressive showing in Poznan.
“He put a shift in and he did really fine in the game,” O’Neill observed. “I must admit I didn’t know a significant amount about him in that sense, not having had the opportunity to really study him at close quarters, but he did really fine.
“Just on a general point, I think it’s really early yet for me to start making big assumptions about the team. We’ve played the two games: the home game which I’m delighted to have won but we’d have expected to have done so, and the game in Poland. That was a totally different game and we came out of it unscathed in the end. We could create more,obviously, but from the general viewpoint I am pretty pleased.”
O’Neill also intends to throw the net wider in the search for new talent, including making maximum use of the eligibility rules.
“Yeah, there are a few I’ll have a look at,” he said. “Also to fill you in, there’ll be other players I’ll go and check — heritage and stuff like this. Is that the correct word? And if there’s someone out there that you think is worthwhile I’ll certainly have a look at that.”
He’ll also be keeping his fingers crossed too that Darron Gibson’s recovers from a serious knee injury.
“Of course, of course. It’s going to be lengthy but they think he might be ready in the summertime.”
Needless to say, our final encounter, for the time being, with O’Neill could not possibly be fully negotiated without the mandatory question about his assistant.
Is Keane enjoying his new role as much as the boss appears to be? “Absolutely,” O’Neill affirmed. “He’s really into it. I think you could tell that from the press conference he did — hopefully you could tell that. He has been really positive. It’s early yet, you know, but I’m sure if you grabbed a word with the players they’d have nothing but praise for him so far.”
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