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Sunday 17 December 2017

Confusion part of my game

Martin O’Neill speaks to the media in Abbotstown yesterday
Martin O’Neill speaks to the media in Abbotstown yesterday

Martin O'Neill readily admits that confusion plays a central role in his professional life but in a just over a week's time, he would be more than happy to walk away from the Aviva Stadium in a state of complete befuddlement.

If it happens, it will mean that more than one of the motley crew of fringe men, Under-21s and old timers he has assembled alongside the preferred options for Euro 2016 have done enough against Switzerland or Slovakia to throw his currently clarified thoughts into chaos.

For much of his time as Ireland boss, his interaction with the outside world and indeed his onfield selection policy has been marked by commas and clauses.

Doubt

He seems to work best in a perpetual state of doubt, as Shay Given discovered before the home qualifier against Poland a year ago when he found out that he would need his gloves an hour before the kick-off.

As is always the case in these things, O'Neill's method trumps any criticism because it worked and if he finds himself thrown into doubt by some stellar performances against Switzerland and Slovakia, who could complain?

"After these two games, the next opportunity we will get (to look at players) is a few days before Holland. Time is pressing," said O'Neill.

"But it might be a good time as well, because if you get an opportunity here so late and you do well then it puts some thoughts into my head," he added.

Asked whether he would prefer to leave the Aviva with crystal clear thoughts or major doubts, he picked the latter.

"You know, I wouldn't mind going away more confused, I wouldn't mind at all. We've had two and half years of confusion. Confusion is part of my game," he said laughing.

Most Ireland fans could probably name at least 20 of the 23, perhaps even more than that and O'Neill agrees that, fitness permitting, most of the travelling party picks itself.

"Maybe I just haven't looked at it properly because you could pick up injuries but all of us gathered around here would have a fair idea that there's a group who have done very, very well and that, fitness apart, they would be in the squad."

"I believe there are places for people to come in and do well. Club form has to come in to some of my thinking. I definitely don't have the full 23 in my mind. Absolutely not."

O'Neill will be able to use six subs and with 33 players still in his group, he has no intention of throwing around caps simply because players turned up.

"I want players to get a bit of international experience but I want them to have earned it. I want them to think, 'if it's the only 45 minutes I'll ever play for Ireland, I want to have earned it'."

For all O'Neill's unwillingness to reveal any detail about his thoughts on his final squad, he did give some hints in the way he answered questions.

Put it this way, Harry Arter is in with a big shout, Darron Gibson perhaps not.

"Arter came off in his match with a bit of an Achilles problem which he has had for a little while. We will have another look him. He is obviously desperate to try and get in involved in the squad.

"I would love to, in an ideal world, it would have been great if he had been (fit for both games).

"If he is fit, he would start one of the two games. if he is not then that would be a bit unfortunate."

And Gibson?

"He said he has picked up bit of hamstring. I spoke to Darron, he thought it wasn't too bad and he would spend a few days doing training at Everton with a view to coming over. I'll monitor that.

It would be particularly unlucky if the last real chance to put some doubt into O'Neill's mind was ruined by injury.

"As an outfield player, he hasn't played for some time at competitive level. That has to be a concern for me. He is keen to come over and play some part," said O'Neill

Perhaps O'Neill's biggest decision will come in first selecting three goalkeepers and once that's done, fining that down to hs p[referred starter against Sweden in France.

"At the minute, the way it's looking at club level if West Ham continue in the Cup there is a possibility that Darren (Randolph) will play these games which is great for him and great for us."

"Robbie Elliot has had a lot of games now - he made a terrific save there yesterday in the game - and he's doing well. So my idea is to try and probably play the two of them, one of them in one of the games and one in the other."

"In Robbie's, case to give him that wee bit of extra international experience," said O'Neill

Fit again

"Shay getting fit again and things like this - I think I'll just have to deal with all of those situations as they arise."

"Shay hasn't played for some time. I thought last week they were saying that he was back into full time training."

"I think there's a difference between getting back into full-time training and actually playing some matches. I'll just monitor that as we go along."

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