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Wednesday 23 August 2017

Cagey O'Neill keeps all his cards close

Ireland boss won't be dragged into debates

Jonathon Walters is pictured during training yesterday at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathon Walters is pictured during training yesterday at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Martin O'Neill will never be led to the water by anyone looking for a headline. He has a fine ear for anything tricky.

The objects of attention yesterday and since Sunday's win over Uruguay have been Darren Randolph and Jeff Hendrick, men who needed to play well but didn't.

But sometimes you really have to wonder about the questions he has to field and when it came to what was essentially a query about whether he was going to drop Randolph, O'Neill drew a line.

He was right. Of all the positions on the pitch, the goalkeeping slot is the most sensitive and the idea that he would give even a hint about his intentions was risible.

"I'm not going to be part of your debate," he said, not annoyed but justifiably amazed that anyone would expect him to answer.

Johnny Hayes and John O’Shea are pictured during training yesterday ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria. Photo: Sportsfile
Johnny Hayes and John O’Shea are pictured during training yesterday ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria. Photo: Sportsfile

"I have some choices to make; during the course of the build-up to the game. It's good for the Republic of Ireland itself because that's what we always wanted, we didn't want people stepping into the side and thinking they own it for the next couple of years.

Performance

"If they play well enough in the games, then well enough. I'm not going to be part of the speculation.

"I've been in this game a fairly lengthy time. I've made some big calls during my time here and that's part of my job," said O'Neill.

He was happy to have a chat about Hendrick who made no impact against Uruguay.

He looked out of sorts in the same way he failed to show against Belarus in the warm-up before Ireland departed for Paris this time last year. That performance earned him an ear-bashing from Roy Keane and by the time Sweden came around, he was ready.

Perhaps he needs the big event to get him going but O'Neill is flush with midfielders now and if all were available, the debate around his form might be a lot more intense.

"I've no problem with Jeff. He has done exceptionally well for us, had a terrific time in the Euros which was great," claimed the Ireland boss.

As things stand, Hendrick is certain to start against Austria and the debate now is really about where he should play.

"I don't really have a problem with Jeff in that regard. He can adapt. If you look back at the DVD, he spent a lot of time defensively for us on the right hand side against Austria, particularly in the second half, still trying to push forward at the same time," said O'Neill.

"He can play a central role which I think he prefers and if you've got two holding players, playing in front of them doesn't present a problem and he can also get back to defend."

There was further bad news in terms of O'Neill's options up front with David McGoldrick now very unlikely to make it.

"He played the game against Mexico, came back and was one of the subs for the Uruguay game. I think he kept it a little bit quite," he said.

"He felt a bit of a niggle behind his knee and didn't know whether it was some old type of injury playing up for a day or two.

"We've gone and got him scanned and we're waiting for the results. If it is causing him a bit of discomfort and I think that's what is it as this minute then obviously he would be doubtful for the game."

O'Neill is clearly upbeat and selling a positive message about his approach to Austria. It doesn't look like Ireland will hold anything back.

"Look at the mindset of Austria for a start. They probably never thought they would lose three points to us in the game and now, suddenly they are thinking about coming and having to win the game," he insists.

"I don't think that's what we want to do, we don't want to get into a mindset that because they have to win, that we can hit them on the break.

"I think we just have to dismiss that.

"We are at home, it's up to us. As I mentioned at the press conference after the game, we have to be on the front foot, take the crowd with us and give them something to cheer."

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