O'Neill begins work on fine detail
Preparations for Ireland's march on France in the summer have cranked into gear and Martin O'Neill is more than happy with the rate of progress.
Speaking at last night's Irish Independent Sportstar awards in Croke Park, O'Neill has clearly recovered from the initial impact of drawing Belgium, Italy and Sweden in the Euro 2016 finals and has turned his attention towards the logistics of the event.
He still feels the draw didn't do Ireland any favours but a week has given him some perspective.
"When we get a wee bit closer to the time, we'll get a bit of belief about ourselves again and feel as if we can go to the opening game, give it everything we've got and feel as if we're capable of winning the match. It was disappointing that Italy, who are essentially a Pot 1 team, were in the same group as us from Pot 2," he said.
"But it's a nice problem to have and come the time we'll be ready."
Work done in advance of the draw meant that O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane were able to go directly to selected training venues on Sunday and while no decisions have been taken yet, it would seem that Versailles is winning the race to host his Ireland squad.
"I've been very happy with the work of the backroom staff have put in and they've done great work on our behalf and making some choices at the end was actually quite simple," he said when asked whether Versailles was the favoured option.
"We're hoping to be able to nail down something in the foreseeable future but I'm more than happy with the work that they've done. They've made all the things fall into place, and yeah, just very pleased."
"Even Roy is happy with the facilities so that's a major plus. But no bibs are allowed, absolutely no bibs," he said laughing.
Saipan will never be far from anyone's thoughts in the run-up to big tournaments but it does seem as though the FAI have been extra-diligent in making sure O'Neill and Keane would be impressed by what was on offer.
The draw has produced some complicated travel arrangement, particularity if O'Neill wants to maintain the same base for the duration of the tournament which would mean at least one flight - to Bordeaux for the final group game against Belgium.
O'Neill himself will begin his planning on Monday when he sits down with his staff to run through the schedule in front of them and make some plans.
"We apparently have to be in France five days before so we know our itinerary now better then we would have done."
"What we're going to do is to meet up with Roy and the back room staff again on Monday with a bit of luck and just digest everything that's in front of us and try and make a couple of decisions about what happens after our friendly game at the end of May," he added.
The FAI announced Holland as the final piece in the preparation match jigsaw on May 27 and O'Neill is delighted with the quality of the opposition.
"Brilliant, I'm really pleased with the quality of opposition we have in all the games. Switzerland, Slovakia, and now we've got the Holland game which is great to look forward to."
O'Neill is following his belief that there is no useful purpose served in playing friendlies against weaker opposition and that a true test against a big nation is the right preparation for the finals.
"Major games and a proper test for us and that's the way I want it. As I said before, I would rather take this quality of opposition going into the matches regardless of the result than taking on opposition that we think we can beat and it proves absolutely nothing."
This time last year, O'Neill was one of dwindling minority who thought that France would be on the menu at all. By the end of June, he was virtually on his own.
He would be justified if he had the odd 'I told you so' moment but he has limited his chastisement of doubters to gentle reproach.
Surrounded by stars of the past, present and future at Croke Park last night, he focused on Ronnie Delany to underline the point that he always felt that qualification was possible.
"If you talk to a lot of sportsmen here tonight, for instance, I've just met the great Ronnie Delany again and if you were to ask him, I haven't seen the race now for quite some time, '56 in Melbourne I think it is, if you were to ask him where was he positioned with a lap to go, he's probably able to tell you.
"He won the race and that's the most important thing," said the Ireland boss.
"There was a lot of doom and gloom around the place when we didn't beat Scotland in June and when we lost to Scotland in November of last year but it was always doable, always possible."
O'Neill watched his players as the campaign neared an end, saw the belief growing which ultimately blossomed against Germany and Bosnia.
For O'Neill, the win over Germany was the game-changer and convinced him that he had a group capable of qualifying even if it would take the longest route possible.
"It's not to say that experience alone taught me these things but we still had a chance, it was a matter of keeping belief and having to produce and we produced when it mattered most in the last couple of hurdles."
Germany was a big result and it gave us the confidence and belief to go into the play-offs.