Thursday 18 January 2018

O'Neill draws comfort from Georgia

Aiden McGeady shoots to score Ireland’s winning goal in the opening Euro 2016 qualifier in Tbilisi in September 2014. Pic: Sportsfile
Aiden McGeady shoots to score Ireland’s winning goal in the opening Euro 2016 qualifier in Tbilisi in September 2014. Pic: Sportsfile
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, left, and manager Martin O’Neill will look no further than Monday’s World Cup qualifier against Serbia in Belgrade. Pic: Sportsfile

This time two years ago, Martin O'Neill had Georgia on his mind and he was worried.

He's worried about Serbia too but maybe not as much. This time, he knows his players intimately and that gives him comfort.

He will be missing James McCarthy but suddenly that doesn't look like such a big deal and Jeff Hendrick is probably the main reason for that.

But he will have John O'Shea and perhaps Seamus Coleman too if he's lucky.

"Going in, heading to Georgia, you are not sure of things. I had the players for a number of games beforehand, and we had a trip to America, on the back of a game in Dublin and one in Fulham against Italy.

"Then in America we were missing players all over the pitch so really - with the Georgia came upon us - we were going in with a lot of concern about the team.


"It doesn't mean I don't have concern this time but I know the team a lot better and I was very concerned about the match in Georgia

"But Aiden McGeady came up trumps to win the game for us and I think I said to you that evening that those three points might prove vital, and every point we get will be of vital importance.

"I think it is quite similar going into this game," said the Ireland boss.

O'Neill and his players barely had time to enjoy the successes they had in France before the new season was upon them and he won't be wasting any time on it now.

"You have to push the Euros to the side. It was a great experience but it has gone. The trip to France over 12 games was a long haul and it felt a long haul.

"We were playing games, in Georgia, then Gibraltar, Germany, we were on seven points after three games and suddenly were thinking we were going strongly.

"Then we went into the game against Scotland in November and got beaten and had a long time to think about that. So we fight back from the group and go through.

"And do you know what, when you look at the fixture list again, three of the first four games are away from home," he said.

"What I feel about this group is that the natural differences are that to qualify you need to win the group. Two can do it - one via a play off - but what I think about this group is that teams would take points off each other

"With Germany, you always felt they would top the Euro 2016 group and you would be fighting for second or third.

"This group of all of them, my own view is, will be the one that will be won by the team with the least number of points," claimed the Ireland boss


O'Neill reckons that Moldova will provide the same role as Georgia did in the France 2016 qualifying series.

"Moldova will take points off teams too. From that viewpoint, while you will never be clear, you would hopefully get some points on the board early on to give yourself a chance.

"So that is how I feel about it but as I said, I have got a wee bit more experience around us.

"Some of the players have got a wee bit more confidence about their game now, so that should help but sometimes confidence is temporary. It can erode very quickly."

"Are we in better shape? We should be. Better shape, I'm not talking about physically but mentally we should be with some of the games we've gone through.

"Listen at the end of the day, during that campaign we have taken four points off Germany, the world champions. We've had to fight against Bosnia to get through and we've had some big, big matches and over the 12 games we have come through that.

"There is a bit of strength coming through that and I actually think that somewhere along the way in those matches we had in France I think the players went into the Italy game, on the back of having been beaten by Belgium, but still feeling 'hang on a minute it's not that long ago that we beat Germany and came through against Bosnia'.

"We have to battle the whole way through but we did fine out there and if we had a couple of more days I honestly feel we could have beaten France.

"But that is gone now, that is tournament football where things like that can happen. We're now back into qualification mode and getting your head around that," said the Ireland manager.

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