Saturday 19 January 2019

Martin O'Neill sets light tone

Ireland boss upbeat and confident

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill

DAPPER, bright-eyed and fizzing with energy, Martin O'Neill cast a cold eye on the hacks before him and judged them wanting.

He had just swept up to the front door at Abbotstown, suited, booted and flight case trailing behind him, and marched in for his provisional squad announcement with purpose.

Then he saw his audience. Mostly unshaven, unfettered by ties or in most cases, even shirts, this was not an attractive group, it has to be said.

In our defence, it was an unreasonably early kick-off for many of the nocturnal creatures in front of him, though not, of course, for the Herald, long used to meeting the dawn with open arms.

He was having a laugh and it wasn't the only one. When he was asked about Roy Keane's pending new book, released in the week before Gibraltar at the Aviva, he kept a straight face while he dropped what would have been a bombshell had he been serious.

"Somebody asked me had I vetted the book. And the answer is I wasn't going to go to all that trouble.Listen. At the end of the day, if he is giving dog's abuse out, I'll just dump him.

"You know.Send him on home and depending on who he is giving the abuse to I ….I'm only having a joke." At which point, FAI media man Peter Sherrard exhaled for the first time in three minutes and relieved some of the pressure on his ever reddening face.

It can't be easy to hang around with prickly Martin and volcanic Roy when you have almost no idea what they might say next and no way to control their output.

Then some housekeeping. O'Neill revealed a small niggle about Seamus Coleman's hamstring and welcomed James McClean back to competitive action with a glowing recommendation.

"At least he got on and he looks fit now although he's missed a lot of pre-season. But he's not one of those lads who takes ages and ages to get fit. So that was encouraging. He's never let me down or let himself down more to the point. He would be very much in it."

"Seamus? His injury is not so bad, I've been speaking to him. He had a headband but he was feeling his hamstring again. A scan showed up something but it's not too serious."

And Jeff Hendrick?

"He didn't have the operation, he went down injured when I was there and I was cursing my luck but he didn't have the operation, he's made progress.


"He himself is hoping he might get a game in before the internationals and he's been doing very, very well so fingers crossed he might come through."

O'Neill has resigned himself to Joey O'Brien's ongoing fitness issues. "Joey has been really unfortunate. Joey comes to the squads, he says hello to me and then just disappears again.

"I understand he's got a willingness. He wants to come but he's definitely got a problem maintaining four/five days constant training and he's had this knee problem for some time."

Andy Reid's late withdrawal from the squad for didn't cause as big a headache for O'Neill as O'Brien's but he remains an option once he can prove his fitness. He is currently receiving injections on a groin injury to play for Notts Forest.

"I wouldn't rule him out. He's got talent and he looks as fit as he's ever been in terms of his body shape."

O'Neill finished up with a spot of rabble rousing and why not?

"Scotland might have got them at a decent time but forget about that, we still have our own game to play and I think that we can cause Germany problems."

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