herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Shutters come down

Family time is off the agenda for players as O'Neill demands total focus for Euro finals

The Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
The Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

The sights and delights of Paris will be just a short trip away from Ireland's Euro 2016 base in Versailles this time next month.

But already, even before the 23-man travelling party has been selected, the message from Martin O'Neill is clear: we're going to France to slog it out, not go sight-seeing.

Security will one major concern for all teams taking part at the tournament, just seven months after the terrorist attacks which scarred the city last year, and those demands will restrict the movement of the players when it comes to mingling with the great unwashed.

We're certainly unlikely to see a repeat of one incident from Euro 2012 when two members of the Irish squad, frustrated by the end of the tournament at their lack of game time, ended up kipping on the beach in Sopot at the end of a very big night out on the tiles.

O'Neill, in Dublin yesterday to name his preliminary 35-man squad for the friendly games against Holland and Belarus, is happy for his players to spend time with their families in the build-up to the finals, but once the wheels of the team flight land in Paris on Wednesday June 8, it's down to work.

"I don't want to sound too cynical about this but we are there to try and compete," says O'Neill, who will trim down his 35-strong squad in the coming days. "The players will get some time here.

"It's not to say we will be completely cooped up. When we are in Ireland here they do get a bit of free-time, leading up to matches here they are allowed that.

"But when we get out there they will have seen enough of their families. This is a big, big competition. It might not come around for a number of players again - ever.

"So you might as well give it everything. From that aspect they will get a chance to see families after the weekend of the Dutch game.

Opportunity

"Then there will be another opportunity after we come back from Fota Island to do that as well.

"When we go there, sorry, it's the games. If we could make it through to the next stage, there will be a day when they will get a chance to see people."

O'Neill jokes that he doesn't want players' children under his feet at the team hotel, especially if he "finds out that they belong to somebody who has missed two goals against Sweden".

He has time and space to crack jokes like that as we're now in the lead-in phase to the tournament.

O'Neill will keep busy next weekend by attending the Manchester United-Bournemouth game on Sunday, a chance to see Harry Arter and (hopefully) Eunan O'Kane in action before their season closes down.

The fortunes of players like Aiden McGeady, Keiren Westwood, Richard Keogh, Cyrus Christie, Jeff Hendrick and David Meyler in the play-offs will also be on his radar.

O'Neill has plenty of injury issues to deal with in the days between now and the May 31st deadline by which he has to formally name his squad.

Seamus Coleman is not such a worry, even though he's sidelined by a hamstring injury, and Jeff Hendrick is in the same boat, the slight concern outweighed by the confidence that they'll be back fully fit even though they've missed recent games for their clubs.

But Shay Given and Marc Wilson, who have both missed large chunks of the season, cannot be so sure of their seats on the plane.

"Obviously Shay's fitness is a bit of a concern. I have to take three goalkeepers with me and the point was made that sometimes you might have to gamble on a bit of fitness, sometimes you have to gamble on something else," says O'Neill, aware that while Keiren Westwood has not been in favour at international level of late, his fitness is an advantage which Given lacks.

"Marc Wilson is seeing a specialist today and will let him know how much progress he has made.

"He was actually doing very well up until a couple of weeks ago and then suddenly he got injured again.

"So that injury is just concerning him a little bit but he's trying to fight back, although the reports coming out of Stoke are that he obviously wouldn't be involved at first team level at all."

Promoted articles

Entertainment News