O’Neill ready to unleash new talent

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has admitted he may rest some of his senior stars for the friendly against Serbia in March in order to inject fresh blood into the squad.

The Derry man has kept himself busy since last month’s opening games against Latvia and Poland by watching a clutch of club match in England.

Amongst those emerging talents to have impressed him was Derby County midfielder Jeff Hendrick, who recently returned from an ankle injury, and last week earned a name-check by O’Neill.

The Ireland manager told RTÉ Radio 1: “There might be a thought – and please allow me to change my mind on this – that one or two stalwarts who we know will be around the scene injury-apart, that maybe we’ll leave them aside and try some other players in the game against Serbia without giving out caps on a willy-nilly basis.

“I’ve watched matches where some young players have been particularly excellent. I would like to follow that up by watching as many young lads as possible before I announce my squad for the next game.

“I’m not going to bring players in for the sake of it, I’ll make sure they’re up to the standard.”

O’Neill also supplied an update on the influence his famous sidekick Roy Keane is bringing to the set-up following his surprise appointment to the managerial ticket.

“Roy has put his heart and soul into the job,” admitted O’Neill of fellow ex-Sunderland boss. “For the younger players, he would be held in great esteem because of his playing career and they can attest to that. I can’t say I know Roy fantastically well. Funnily enough, I felt he would be really sickened after Ipswich affair but I met him a few times after that and his drive and determination was still there. They were important ingredients when it came around to picking him as my assistant.”

Meanwhile, a 17% haircut off their €59m stadium debt has given the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) the perfect Christmas present.

The deal – which sees the Bank of Ireland take over the debt pile from Danske Bank – will help alleviate the burden on the association that had triggered huge cutbacks across all strands of football in recent years.

Original plans by the FAI to finance their €72m portion of the Lansdowne Road construction costs in 2010 by offloading of expensive premium tickets to the corporate sector proved disastrous. Only a fraction of the projected €180m in sales was generated.

Since the FAI were forced to take on massive loans, over €12m has disappeared from the game through interest-only payments.

The FAI’s finance director Tony Dignam informed delegates at their AGM last July that they hoped to begin dealing with the principal sum from 2015.

This refinancing package, however, has shaved a sizeable €10m sum off that albatross, ensuring the governing body can distribute funds to areas badly in need of investment.

FAI chief executive John Delaney, who has stuck to his pledge of having the association debt-free by 2020, is set to announce the new financial accord before Christmas.

Delegates present at last Thursday’s pre-Christmas meeting of FAI council were heartened to hear the good tidings of a deal being close to completion.


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