Monday 11 December 2017

No problems for a positive O'Neill ahead of crunch clash

Irish boss wants to silence Polish critics with a victory


ireland v poland, aviva stadium, tomorrow (live rte2 & SKY SPORTS 5, KO 7.45)

MARTIN O'Neill will not be shifted from his even, calm and steady build-up to tomorrow's Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland at the Aviva. It's steady as he goes.

He did fire his first broadside of the week at a string of Polish footballers, past and present who have dismissed Ireland as a long ball, physical team good at set-pieces but not much else.

It was welcome to hear a (small) bit of rabble-rousing though it was a considerable way short of a call to arms moment.

O'Neill is sticking to a balanced build-up, something which he hasn't really had before because of publicity created by his mostly No. 2 Roy Keane and Everton boss Roberto Martinez.

There has been a steady drizzle of mildly disrespectful stuff from our Polish friends and while it is hard to disagree with their assessment, other than to add that defensively, set-piece aptitude didn't reveal itself in Parkhead back in November and cost O'Neill a point, the Ireland manager could not let such an accusation lie.

"I'm not bothered by what they say, genuinely," he said before showing that he was, at the very least, mildly irritated by the charge.

"I'm not sure how they can glean that. It's not for me to retort but Poland are as physical a side as I have seen in some time," he said.

O'Neill wants his players to wear their confidence like a shield for a match which must be won and hopefully, in a way which makes a statement.

"You can talk until you are blue in the face but what it boils down to is this. You go with confidence into the game. Real, serious confidence," said the Ireland boss.

"Put club football aside, if it's trials and tribulations with your club. Get that shirt on and go for it," he added.

However, O'Neill is wary of false confidence as he is wary of just aboput everything else and doesn't want his men to peak too early. "Well the confidence here on a Friday morning? I have been involved in matches where confidence has been absolutely at its height on Friday morning but by Saturday evening, it could be a disaster. "I've also been in the other one where you start low and finish on top," said O'Neill.

"Confidence is high at the minute It should be. We're playing at home. Most of the crowd will be on your side, at least for a while."

O'Neill revealed nothing of his plans for the game but did hint that the long ball jibes which have been aimed at his team recently and by commentators closer to home may have been premature.

Asked if a physical Poland team required a similar response from Ireland, he said: "If we are going in with lighter players we will have to adopt a different approach."

"I think that their approach will be pretty positive as suggested by the results they have got. Against Germany there were moments in the match when fortune broke for them but they've earned that. They've gone and got the points on the board."

"We're expecting a big game. This is the first at the Aviva and we have four out of five at home. It's up to us to do something about it."

O'Neill believes that what might be seen as uncertainty in his team selection on his part is a positive thing in terms of his players.

"There are still places up for grabs which I still think is a good thing. There are still some lads here still feel as if they've a chance of making the starting line-up."

O'Neill has fully digested events in Glasgow last November and learned the lessons.

"The very obvious one if you look at the goal we conceded. We're 75 minutes into the game and I concentration should be, I know players get tired in a match, concentration goes a bit but that really should be at its height."

"If you've been well beaten in a game where Scotland or any other side play through you and put one in the net. You just hold your hands up."

"But if it's a goal which you think can be prevented that's any obvious lesson to learn," said the Ireland manager.

After a week of uncertainty about Stephen Ward, Aiden McGeady, James McClean (left) and Robbie Brady, O'Neill reached the end of the week with all his options intact other than the often injured Darron Gibson.

Anthony Stokes sat out training but other than that and barring any reaction, O'Neill will deal from a full set of cards at Lansdowne Road.

"It's good. I don't know if there are any reactions for Stephen are James. They are ready to go I think."

O'Neil once again underlined the fact that he may have to rely on some players who have very little football in their legs.

"You wouldn't want to go into a game with three or four like that but it may happen that way," he said.


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