Wednesday 13 December 2017

Martin is high king of saying nothing

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill is pictured with Ciaran Clark during a press conference ahead of tonight’s friendly against Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill is pictured with Ciaran Clark during a press conference ahead of tonight’s friendly against Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

Another day in the Martin O'Neill reality show and another pre-match press conference to say the same things he's been saying since the night Ireland qualified for France 2016.

Beside him Ciarán Clark, a decent lad with some prospects but a line of patter born in the mind of a Premier League PR functionary given the task of making sure that if a player has to say something, he must say nothing while doing it.

Worse still, Clark, O'Neill told us, won't start against Slovakia tonight so anything he had to say wasn't all that relevant to anything.


This came after a two-day media black-out while the players met their families and probably had a few commemorative pints. Good luck to them.

We used to get the captain on the day before a game and that seemed to be the case on Good Friday, when John O'Shea turned up and spoke well, as he always does.

But John didn't start the game so he wasn't going to be the skipper and was just doing what some footballers understand they must do and having a chat with the fans through the media.

Presumably, whoever has been handed the stripes for Slovakia didn't feel like grinding out 30 tedious minutes offering his thoughts to the nation.

With Robbie Keane back in LA, perhaps O'Neill forgot he needed a captain, possibly the most likely scenario.

In short, anyone looking for deep insights from O'Neill or one of his players about the 1-0 win over Switzerland or tonight's second Easter friendly against Slovakia can forget about it.

Maybe we should try a clairvoyant for team news from now on. There's a good chance we would get more information that we do from pre-match press conferences.

This is all a bit giddy and haphazard.

Clarification about final preparations for France was also sketchy enough with no word available from O'Neill about a game to fill the gaping 17-day void in the finely prepared programme.

Later, the FAI confirmed Belarus on May 31 at Turners Cross, still one day short of two weeks before Ireland meet Sweden in the Stade de France.

During that time, all three Group E opponents will be in action. Sweden meet Wales on June 5, Belgium play Finland on the same day and Italy meet Finland on June 6.

As of now, it is difficult to know what the Irish players will actually be doing in between the final day of the Fota Island training camp on June 3 and the departure date for France five days later.

O'Neill appears to have sleep-walked into this and admitted that he hadn't initially considered this enormous 17-day gap.

"The honest answer is no. We thought about those players who would have had a long season, let's say the players in the Championship who didn't make the play-offs, for instance.

"I thought that perhaps a little bit of rest after a really long season, a 46-game season, might be actually the answer, where they might come back fresh and feel as if they are okay.

"Then you are still thinking about a 17-day period. Our intention was always we would play XI v XI or whatever else that we could organise down around Cork. When we thought about it first of all, I wasn't overly-concerned, and then I thought well, that is a fairly lengthy time, so it was not our first thought, but after that," he said.

Right. There was a time when someone not a million miles away from Martin would have been squirting red mist around the team hotel if he felt that all was not as it should be.

Best move on. Slovakia. O'Neill wants his players to hold onto possession a bit better than they did against the Swiss four days ago, which should be easily achievable since green shirts seem unable to keep the ball for more than a few passes.

Eunan O'Kane and Jonathan Hayes could start and Wes Hoolahan is also likely to have his tracksuit off for the anthems.

If you want any more than that, try a Tarot reader or maybe cast some chicken giblets and some old lizard bones on the floor.

They might tell you who O'Neill's captain will be, because I can't.

Ireland v Slovakia, live Setanta Ireland (ko 7.45)

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