Saturday 16 December 2017

O'Neill praying for play-off draw luck

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill needs a lucky break in tomorrow's Euro 2016 play-off draw
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill needs a lucky break in tomorrow's Euro 2016 play-off draw

Now that all 54 member nations in UEFA have finished the difficult work of voting unanimously to back Michel Platini, the work of the Blazer continues moves onto Euro 2016 and a play-off draw which can make or break Ireland.

There is a great deal at stake for everyone concerned when eight balls are manipulated until four are arranged against four, but particularly for the FAI and Martin O'Neill will be in Switzerland for the event.

The battle for hearts and minds has been sharpened by events in England and Wales over the last three weeks.

Any self-respecting football marketing man would have felt his blood run cold when the maudlin strains of Olé Olé Olé rose up from the masses at Wembley and Cardiff during Ireland's first few games in the other World Cup.

Before Joe Schmidt and his team, that anthem was the soul preserve of travelling football fans and perhaps the odd Olympic medal winner but the idea that it could be annexed by devotees of egg-chasing was unthinkable.

Anything is possible now. Rugby has the high ground recently owned by Dublin and yet, when O'Neill somehow found a way to beat Germany, there was more than a hint of the kind of support waiting to be tapped. By the time the play-offs are finished on November 17, the RWC final will be a two-week old memory and the battle for Ireland's armchair supporter will switch focus.

After Poland, the general consensus is that O'Neill and Ireland need all the luck he can get in the draw hall in Nyon. Most believe that Hungary would fufil that role nicely and do for O'Neill what Estonia did for Giovanni Trapattoni but in reality, there is very little to choose between the eight teams in the draw.

Logistically, everyone has pointed out that the Ukraine is the game to avoid but apart from a few extra hours for the official party in their private charter, it is really only a problem for fans who want to make the long trek.


Seeded: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Sweden and Hungary.

Unseeded: Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Slovenia.

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