Friday 19 July 2019

O'Neill: Places up for grabs against Turkey

Ireland boss insists friendly is chance for fringe players and new recruits to make an impact

Possession: Cyrus Christie in action against Daryl Horgan in Antalya yesterday
Possession: Cyrus Christie in action against Daryl Horgan in Antalya yesterday
Turkey shoot: Ireland captain Seamus Coleman limbers up in training ahead of Friday’s friendly match with Turkey in Antalya
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill keeps an eye on proceedings

Turkey provided the opposition as the international career of one Ireland great really took off, for that Don Givens hat-trick.

On a more sombre note, Turkey away was the stage where the brilliant Ireland career of Denis Irwin came to an end.

No points will be gained or lost when the Republic of Ireland and Turkey face up to each other here in Antalya on Friday night, but reputations can be made.

Martin O'Neill has made it clear that places are up for grabs in his Ireland squad as a batch of thirty-somethings have either already reached the end of the road at international level (Daryl Murphy and Wes Hoolahan) or are heading there (John O'Shea, Glenn Whelan, Aiden McGeady).

Antalya 2018 is not quite the same as Olomouc 1998, when Mick McCarthy tried out a bunch of young players and road-tested them at senior level.


Of the eight uncapped players in the squad here in Turkey, only one (Declan Rice) is aged 20 or younger, other rookies like Matt Doherty, Derrick Williams and Scott Hogan well into their twenties.

Even players experienced at club level and well on in their careers can get flustered when asked to play at senior international level. So O'Neill's message for his hopefuls this week is to not be afraid of making a mistake, but also to take hold of this opportunity that's presented itself.

One game in Turkey in March won't make the likes of Alan Browne or Scott Hogan into a full-fledged international... but it could help.

"The thing that is really important here is that, while they might be under a bit of pressure to try to perform well here, hopefully it wouldn't be the end of the world if somebody didn't do well," O'Neill told the media after training yesterday.

"If it didn't go well for them in this game, and everyone has to be under pressure at some stage or another, it wouldn't be the end of the world."

It's straight from the Big Book of Football Cliches to say that you can learn more from a defeat that a win. After Steve Staunton's Ireland were torn apart 4-0 at home to Holland in 2006, senior players said the game would be a valuable lesson for tougher times ahead (and that all ended well).

The same could maybe be said for the defeat to Mexico in New Jersey last summer, when an experimental Ireland side were 3-0 down after less than an hour, and where the lesson was not to have Ireland play a three-man defence.

"We played a couple of lads back in the USA and tried the system, the three at the back with two wing backs," O'Neill recalled.

"It's not to say you shouldn't do that but at the time players were trying to get used to the positions and the result, when you get well beaten by Mexico in the game, I wouldn't have been too concerned about it.

"Some players think: well, would that be the end of my chance? Hopefully here they've got this other chance."

O'Neill will make some changes and give out chances on Friday.

There will be a new keeper, either Sean Maguire or Scott Hogan will start up front, defenders like Matt Doherty and Derrick Williams are challenging, and it's a chance for one-cap-wonders Alan Judge and Alan Browne to do more.

In the past, Ireland managers have been bothered by a series of questions from the media about players who are not in the camp, from the Stephen Ireland/Andy Reid sagas through to the Jack Grealish episode.

Trapattoni in particular was annoyed at how often he would be grilled about the exclusion of someone like Reid, why we were more obsessed about a player who was not there than the 25 who were in situ.

Some names did crop up in conversation with O'Neill at the team's training camp in Belek, outside Antalya, yesterday.

Good news on one man (Jon Walters plans to stick around and carry on his Ireland career), no news on another veteran (Glenn Whelan, who O'Neill says he will "get around to speaking to him").

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