Wednesday 22 May 2019

O'Neill: 'We won't tear teams apart'


Ireland manager Martin O’Neill speaks during a press conference at FAI HQ in Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill speaks during a press conference at FAI HQ in Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Aiden McGeady. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

The challenge for Martin O'Neill is to get things right in his mind and put on the field a team capable of winning the next two World Cup qualifiers.

But the Ireland manager, one of the best-paid coaches in international football, has also set a challenge for his players to step up and bridge the generation gap which is, to a large extent, holding this team back.

A year on from his international retirement and as he prepares to start a new life in the Indian league, Robbie Keane is still a topic of conversation whenever O'Neill speaks about the hunt for goals, the Irish boss more than once repeating his dream of having a 27-year-old Robbie Keane at his disposal.

"This has been a generational problem, whatever we say we are not going to rip teams apart, regardless of opposition," says O'Neill, his side due to have their final training session of the week at FAI HQ this morning.

"We scored a few goals against Gibraltar but a lot of teams did at the end of it all.

"We are not going to tear teams apart, we have found it difficult scoring goals, it's been a problem since I came in.

"In some of the matches we have played, having Robbie as a 34-year-old rather than a 27-year-old has been a bit of a problem, he has been the last major goalscorer we have had, somebody you could rely on scoring the goals.

"You feel that when it's in the penalty area that, you know what? He'll know what to do. He will sniff out a goal, you always felt he could do that but we haven't had that.

"We've had to rely on different things and that will be the case. You never know, maybe some of the players coming in now could do that. Hogan, young Maguire, might end up over the next couple of years being the answer to that."

Tomorrow's game at home to Moldova could well be the last-ever home game with the national team for a batch of thirty-somethings like John O'Shea, Glenn Whelan, Wes Hoolahan and Daryl Murphy.

"There was talk after the Euros that one or two might drop away, of course, age catches up with you," O'Neill added.

"There are other players, you're hoping for younger, fresher blood, boys who cannot only step in but eventually be as good as the players who are leaving.

"I think it's just a natural progression that one or two will probably end up calling it a day. I'm hoping it's not tomorrow or Monday. There will be a new look again after the World Cup qualifying, whenever it may be, and I think there would be a natural exodus."

One of those players who have already reached the age of 30 is Aiden McGeady, a player who has endured a frustrating time - and also been a frustration for many fans - in recent years.

The 31-year-old has been on the pitch for less than an hour, spread across four sub appearances, in this campaign but with wide players like James McClean and Jon Walters out for tomorrow, could he come in?

"I don't see why not," O'Neill answered. "His main thing is being fit, and really properly fit. The fittest I've seen him was that time in Georgia a couple of years ago," added O'Neill, referring to the 2014 qualifier when McGeady's two goals gifted Ireland a win.

"Now he is regaining that sort of fitness through playing and that's good. The thing about McGeady is he's match fit. He missed out against Serbia and would have been involved. He came on in the game against Georgia and was a wee bit disappointed with the chance that fell to him. He took it a little bit early but I must admit having seen it back on the replay, it did hang there for a little while. McGeady is a match winner, or can be, and this could be his stage."

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