Saturday 16 December 2017

Events in Brussels pierce O'Neill's bubble

Sense of foreboding underlies Swiss game

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill at squad training. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill at squad training. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland’s Stephen Quinn during squad training at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

It is difficult to get Brussels out of your head now when Euro 2016 is being discussed. The background murmur of disquiet became a shout of alarm when more bombs exploded.

This should be a unique holiday weekend in Ireland. Neatly framing the 1916 events for football fans are the two friendlies against Switzerland and Slovakia which will give Martin O'Neill his last real chance to view those who are on the edge of his plans for France in the summer.

But Brussels has left a sense of foreboding and the notion that it won't be long before we are back in the same dark place, looking at truly awful images, wondering about the summer and whether heavily-armed security can contain ghosts.

As news broke on Tuesday, it fell to Roy Keane to say the things which needed to be said. But like the rest of us, he is helpless in the face of these events and can only say what we all think.

The show must go on.


The problem is, of course, that the people involved in the Brussels atrocities and those in Paris last year are playing to a different audience. They respect no boundaries.

When the 'Eagles of Death Metal' began their set on the stage in the Bataclan, two or three suicide bombers made a run at the Stade de France and failed.

That's the niggle that won't go away. They tried and failed and it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to think that they might try again when hundreds of thousands of football fans pour into France in June.

The conversations you will hear at the Aviva tonight among those who were squirreling away cash for the big trip will reflect an increasing reticence among supporters about travelling.

That said, the idea that countries would hide behind closed doors and play in empty stadiums for television cameras and a posse of media types is just ridiculous even if it is clearly on UEFA's fall back menu should the worst happen.

That was the week that was for the wider world but in the bubble which houses O'Neill, Keane and the players, professional football is more important than anything else and in that sense, the show did go on.

O'Neill has promised us that rare bird tonight, a fully-fledged experimental exercise designed to showcase lads who don't normally get the chance.

Everyone loves a runner that comes late but fast down the home strait and we have plenty to look forward to against Switzerland and then the Slovaks on Tuesday.

The great pity is that Harry Arter is sitting with ice on his Achilles hoping that an awkward injury won't ruin his summer.

He is sitting on the borderline between travelling and watching the Euros on television.

So too is Stephen Quinn, unlucky to be struck down by a knee injury in mid-September last year which needed surgery in October and meant he was absent for all Ireland's heroics against Germany and Bosnia.

He was involved in most of the pre-Euro 2016 campaign friendlies, made his competitive début against Georgia in the first game of the series and also started against Germany away. He will want to do well and should be worth watching.

O'Neill name-checked Shane Duffy as one who should be looking upon the two games as an opportunity to elbow his way into the squad for France.

Duffy's name has been popping up in recent weeks as a target for Alan Pardew at Crystal Palace and it looks like O'Neill also believes that Everton might have made a mistake when they sold him to Blackburn last August.

A big spotlight will shine on Rob Elliott and Darren Randolph who both have the luxury of certain knowledge that they will be on the ticket if they are fit.

The issue for them is more refined. They are playing for the right to start the first game against Sweden on June 13.

Republic of iIeland v Switzerland (live Setanta Ireland, KO 7.45)

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