O'Neill: 'Door to Euro squad is open'
The Ireland squad was a bit of a closed shop under Giovanni Trapattoni, but Martin O'Neill has told Irish hopefuls that he has an open door policy and an open mind when it comes to his final squad for the Euro 2016 finals.
O'Neill appears to have listened and learned from the players' negative experiences in the build up to Euro 2012 and will, instead of a Trap-style training camp camp on the continent, use a base in the UK for the work done in training before the squad heads to France.
But he has also set the March friendly games as a deadline for fringe players hoping to work their way into his thoughts and earn a seat on that flight to France.
With players like Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Shay Given all out inured, good news stories have been thin on the ground for O'Neill of late, but the weekend action in the FA Cup will have put a smile on the face of the Ireland boss.
Jonathan Walters and Stephen Ward both nabbed goals as their sides advanced to the fourth round, senior caps such as Darren Randolph, Marc Wilson and Darron Gibson got some badly-needed game time while others who are in the box marked 'ones for the future' such as Richie Towell (Brighton) and Ian Lawlor (Bury) also got to play.
Trapattoni had a picture in his mind, months before the Euro finals in 2012, not only of the squad he planned to pick but also his starting XI, but O'Neill insists that there's still a chance for players who work their way into the frame.
"There are places there definitely up for grabs," says O'Neill.
"We've a number of players I'd like to see - I mentioned the last time that we've got these games in March and there's a couple of players that have been on the periphery of things that have not had a chance and could maybe have thought they should have had a chance - players like Alan Judge, for instance, who is doing very, very well - so I'd like to include them.
"I don't want to give out caps by a nilly willy basis but by the same token here, there's one or two players who are doing very well and might just deserve that chance at international level," added O'Neill.
James McClean was the only player who went to Euro 2012 having played no part in qualification as his burst of form with Sunderland did the trick for him, but for O'Neill, any 'bolter' for the 2016 squad will need to prove himself in the friendly games, more than club level.
"James hadn't been involved but from Christmas onwards he made a big, big impact at club level and carried it through then so I cant dismiss it," says O'Neill.
"But I would say that if there was a chance of anybody trying to come through, maybe the March games are the ones," he added. "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. But I would not rule out any of those things at all because, I've said this before, while it might sound a bit fanciful I still think that sort of James McClean situation can happen at any given time."
O'Neill has made one key call, though, as there will be no repeat of the Italian training camp which Irish players endured in the build-up to Poland, as the current boss is likely to forego a previously-mooted training camp in Spain or Austria and will instead base the squad in England, then simply travel to France five days before the first group game.
He says that is not a slight on, or a criticism of, his predecessor but clearly, O'Neill has listened to the feeback from players in the current squad who were also involved in 2012, where the squad were unhappy with the length of time they were in camp, the lack of access to their families and the nature of the training itself.
"What we're looking at is actually staying relatively local," says O'Neill. "We've had the opportunity to go to a couple of places, Austria and somewhere else and that sort of stuff but, knowing that the weather is going to be really brilliant here in Dublin we thought that we might stay relatively local, local meaning within the UK.
"We're thinking about that at the moment, myself, Roy, Seamus and Steve are going to meet up this week and run through it the, but the possibility of players being able to see families relatively closely before we leave for France, that's a thought we have."