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Thursday 21 September 2017

O'Neill: 'Experience of the big Dublin victories to drive us on'

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill speaks during a press conference yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill speaks during a press conference yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Their backs are against a wall, a big wall in Dublin, as defeat at home to Serbia tonight will finish off the Republic of Ireland as contenders for the World Cup finals.

Failure to make it to Russia 2018, or a place in the play-offs at least, would finish off a few other things as well, as a batch of Ireland players in their mid to late 30s may decide to hop off the international train and quit, while the notion of handing another contract to the Martin O'Neill/Roy Keane management team, one of the best-paid coaching units in international football, would also be up for debate.

But O'Neill, long in the tooth when it comes to this game and the experiences a manager faces, feels there is more life in this Ireland side, more life in their bid to reach the World Cup or, at least, to stay in the race.

"I think back to the big nights we had here at the Aviva," says O'Neill ahead of the Sertbia tie, a match which he admits is a must-win game.

"We think of the nights we've had here at the Aviva, splendid evenings. Germany, the world champions: we beat them. The play-off game against Bosnia was fantastic, the fightbacks in some of the other matches we've had and the grandstand finishes, all those things should be uppermost in our minds.

"I think the players have shown in the last couple of seasons here a great determination.

"In games where we've been... not having as much possession as the other team, we seem to have found a way to pull it around. And that will be uppermost in our thoughts for this evening."

Speaking at his pre-match press conference, O'Neill seemed to resent the charge that his side struggle to hold onto the lead in games.

"We've played over 20 games at competitive level in the last three years and I think it's once we've gone in front and been beaten and that was against France," he says.

But tonight is not a case for Ireland to go out and hold things tight against Serbia and grind out a draw. "What we want to try and do is get on the front foot. That's the most important thing. We're playing against a really talented side, who have got a lot of ability and a lot of big players playing in big leagues. We want to try and match them," added O'Neill.

"Over the years here, there have been very strong Irish performances, certainly at the Aviva in my time, we might have gone through a 10, 15, 20 minute period where things haven't worked for us, but we seem to have fought through. The game where Jon (Walters) scored against Austria was a case in point, it was very, very strong, just a great effort in the second half of that game when we'd been second best in the first half. We've found a way before and we'll find ways again."

O'Neill had a lot to mull over since the squad landed back in Dublin from Tbilisi - eventually, after a longer-than-expected stay in Germany en route.

"We had a stopover for refuelling in Nuremberg that that took a little bit longer than normal, another flight had pulled in ahead of us, so that took a little bit of time," says O'Neill.

The main issue is his team and how to freshen things up, though injuries for attacking players Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady are worries.

"Wes has got a bit of tightness in his groin and Aiden McGeady had a scan yesterday morning, I think things are okay on his hamstring. We'll see how they are."

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