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Friday 2 December 2016

Martin O'Neill: Morale is high for Scotland face-off

O'Neill and his players shiver but they'll be ready for crunch game

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill
The Ireland squad training ahead of the England clash

MARTIN O'Neill pulled his coat close around him and leaned into the biting wind and rain in Portmarnock. Ireland's first day of training in a crunch two week spell began with a blast of winter.

"Generally speaking pretty good in Malahide since my time here, this is as bad as it's been," he said, shivering and nobody disagreed.

Usually with fixtures which arise in the first few weeks in June, there is an element of holidays postponed when the Ireland squad gathers in Dublin but this was more like a bad day in January. Much more in keeping with the normal rhythms of football.

READ MORE: 'Have we got about four hours?' Martin O'Neill ducks behind FAI on Sepp Blatter controversy

O'Neill squad is a mixum gatherum of Premier League players only recently finished their season long chores and Championship players who have had nothing to do for a month but such is the inconsistency of international football.

The job of keeping them occupied and happy over a long stretch is not one that O'Neill expects to be all that challenging.

"I think that will be easy. What they're looking forward too. First, we've the game against Northern Ireland and we can manoeuvre it any way we want. Then we've the England game and then the ultimate game against Scotland. I think the time will fly,"he said.

O'Neill will do his best to keep everyone active and that means a very loose approach to the usual proprietaries of international football when Ireland host Northern Ireland at the Aviva behind closed doors on Thursday.

The game should allow him to give almost everyone in his reduced squad a run and presumably, help them shake off any rustiness created by the timing of the games.

"On Thursday we can do what we want, maybe divide it into three lots, or a half each. I would expect to use a lot of players over the course of that time."

" We start proper training today, we've got Wednesday, then Thursday to use that as training, it's a build-up particularly for those players who've missed out for the last month, the Championship players especially, they'll be heavily involved in that warm-up game against Northern Ireland."

Active

"I think there are players in the Premiership whose season ended not so long ago. They're reasonably OK. Some of them have gone away for a week's holiday.

"Some like John O'Shea have been doing their coaching badges. It's just a matter of winding down a little bit to wind back that up. It's the Championship players whose season finished a month ago that I'd be more concerned about in terms of fitness."

There is also a question of morale. For the Hull City players in the Ireland squad, the raw taste of disappointment brought about by their final day failure to avoid the drop is still fresh.

Likewise Shay Given who watched his FA Cup dreams go up in smoke but O'Neill is happy that all the players concerned will be fine.

"I spoke with Shay. They were second best over the weekend, well and truly beaten in the match and a lot of below par performances in the game."

"So, he's disappointed for everyone, for the supporters, for just about everyone involved in the club because they didn't perform but he's got that game, he's got the matches now, he's played a number of matches since before the end of the season so from that point of view he's fine.

"I thought he was unsighted for the first goal against Arsenal and for the second goal, the ball has definitely moved a lot and that's a key goal because it's the one that effectively puts the game beyond them, the rest was just battling it out.

Morale

"The immediate disappointment for the Hull lads going down when perhaps maybe four weeks ago they probably thought (they would survive), certainly after the game when I went an watched them against Crystal Palace.

"That was a great win, a great win and then to follow that up with Liverpool; six points when perhaps if they thought they could have got four out of those games they'd have been absolutely delighted.

"Then they go in, must have been with a lot of confidence, against Burnley, get turned over in the game and suffer the consequences so those players are definitely disappointed.

"It's not as if to say from a selfish viewpoint that they're just going to forget about that.

"It takes a bit of time but these are important games for us now coming up so I don't think they're going to just stay dwelling on it.

"These are important games for their country so I think that they can lift themselves," he added.

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