King hails O'Neill factor
U21 boss thinks youth can be swayed by duo
HE HAS handed over the reins of power of the national team to Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane, and Noel King feels the new management team can help to convert more players to the Irish cause via the granny rule.
King had a couple of weeks in the national spotlight as interim boss of the senior side after the exit of Giovanni Trapattoni, but the focus has now shifted off the 57-year-old.
There was evidence of that at FAI HQ yesterday when only a handful of journalists turned up for a press conference where King announced his U21 squad for the upcoming European Championship qualifiers against the Faroe Islands and Montenegro, compared to the media throng for the senior games against Germany and Kazakhstan last month.
King selected the 27-man senior squad, since reduced to 25 due to the withdrawals of Robbie Brady and Ciarán Clark, for the matches against Latvia and Poland. He also met O'Neill yesterday to update him and offer any insights he might have.
But the U21 boss feels the new men at the helm of the senior squad will make his own job easier when it comes to luring players who have dual eligibility but appear to be cold on the idea of committing to the Irish cause. A case in point at the moment is striker Patrick Bamford.
He has an Irish background and played for Ireland U18s, but he subsequently went with England, winning U18 and U20 caps. Chelsea rated him highly enough to spend £1.5million on the then Nottingham Forest lad, and he's been banging in the goals while on loan to MK Dons
A free-scoring striker is always welcome with Ireland, especially one who is at a top club – the main striker for the current Ireland U21 side is Aiden O'Brien, who hasn't even come close to making the first team with Championship side Millwall.
King and other FAI staff have made approaches to Bamford and spoken to the lad's father, but so far the player has not made a commitment to Ireland and only last week spoke of winning caps with England.
Will Keane, a young prospect at Manchester United, is another who is eligible for Ireland (incredibly, his twin brother Michael did declare for Ireland and won U17 caps while Will was playing for England, though Michael has since had a change of heart and has played for England) but is not on board with us – yet.
So King hopes that a phone call from O'Neill and Keane could land players like that for Ireland.
"If one of those two men pick up the phone to you and say that they want you to be part of their plans, I think that would be huge for us," King says.
"If they can bring that authority and presence, that would be great. If they pick up the phone, I think most managers in England would take the call from them. And if they could use that influence for us to get a player, even if it's one player because if you put a value on a modern-day player it is millions, so if we can get one of them to play for us it has to be a plus.
"I read about him (Bamford) last week saying that he wants to get into Chelsea's first team. At this moment, he may be looking to England. If England don't want him or he changes his mind, it's not the greatest scenario, but that is sometimes what you have to live with.
"Will Keane is still eligible for us at Man United. He's come back from injury and I watched him the other day and he went off injured after a minute, but he's still a player with potential. Again, England would be his first port of call.
"There are a load of lads out there, even unbeknownst to themselves, who would qualify for us," said King, adding he came across a previously hidden gem at a game last weekend, but refused to name the player until contact has been made.
"I met Roy at the Wigan-QPR game the week before it was announced. He introduced himself, but I don't know him and same goes for Martin. I spoke on the phone and will meet him later," King said ahead of his summit with O'Neill. "We all know his reputation, they are excellent managers and it's an exciting time for the country and hopefully it works out.
"Martin now takes control of everything, he will have first choice over the U21s if there is anyone he would like. He will want to know how the two games went last month and the thinking behind the squad.
"I'll give him a very honest view of my feelings of the players. You can't do that in the public domain. You can't really express yourself about the players because they have to play for you. As a manager, he'll want to know who has done well and who hasn't done well. It's up to him then to take that information and use it, or not use it, as he sees fit. How much value it is to him, you never know.
"My impression of the players in terms of wanting to play for Ireland and wanting to win, I wouldn't say I was surprised, but it was very pleasing. I thought they were very professional. They get too much stick at times. What they give up to come in and play for their country is never really commented on. They take 10 or 12 days out of their lives, away from their clubs, I know people will say they should, but I think they should get a little more credit."
King can now relax back into his role with the U21s after his spell in charge of the senior side, an experience he enjoyed. "After each game I thoroughly enjoyed it," he says.
"They were two different games: Germany, the highest level and best players in the world. It was a wonderful experience that not many people in football get to do. It was amazing. There was pressure as you were hoping to do well and I felt we did. For the Kazakhstan game, we were expected to win and I was pleased with the result, performance and reaction of players."
So the circus leaves town as far as King is concerned and he focuses on Friday's qualifier at home to the Faroes, in Sligo (3.45pm).
"If we win the next two games we'd go into second place, then we have Montenegro and Germany away. Realistically, if we win the four games we'd be on 16 points and you'd be there or thereabouts for qualification, but it's a big ask," he reflected.