Open-minded manager offers Ireland chance to play again
MARTIN O'NEILL is ready to offer Stephen Ireland the chance to repair the damage done in the last four years and return to play for his country.
Claiming that if Roy Keane could come back after Saipan, anyone could, O'Neill admitted that he doesn't know Ireland on a personal level and had no real involvement in his move to Villa Park.
"I really do have an open mind. I will get round to watching him play. He is playing regularly and apparently playing well.
"I've not seen him live but that will rectify itself in no time. I've a very open mind. If Roy can come back, it's open for anyone.
"Some players are taller and stronger than me and when I have a decision to leave them out, I might have to phone them rather than speak face to face. That will tell you how brave I am.
"Face John Hartson in the wrath of a semi-final and we won the game. I took him off ... and he was waiting for me in the tunnel. Stephen Ireland is much smaller than Hartson."
O'Neill used the same light touch approach to a range of subjects and avoided specifics about individual players, claiming that he needed time to digest the work in front of him.
But his initial meet and greet with the squad appears to have gone well.
"I've talked to them between last night and this morning. Not long lectures. Just getting to know what the players want.
"I gave them some time off and to a man they stayed in the hotel. At 7.30 I told them curfew was 7.45 and they stayed in hotel," he laughed.
"No. I joined with them last night and they were in good spirits. I wish good spirits was enough to win you football matches."
Also involved in the getting-to-know-you mission was Robbie Brady, who was present at training in Malahide this morning despite having pulled out of the squad after failing to recover fully from a hernia operation.
O'Neill touched on his own football philosophy and the need to adapt something new for this Ireland squad. But he inserted a few provisionals, particularly when he was asked to comment on Joachim Loew's recent and underwhelming assessment of Irish football.
"I've got my own ideas on it. If you're going to play at home, and it's been a wee bit of a problem here at home, just a matter of settling into the Aviva, maybe the rugby side might find the same but at the moment my view is that, things like passion and desire you nearly think are a prerequisite.
"I think that's probably what he means, that there's a get up at 'em type attitude but if you tell me, are the Germans playing exactly the same way as the Spaniards at the minute or Barcelona, I'm not terribly sure.
"I think each nation has their own DNA and we have to work with that.
"Do I think the Irish players are capable of expressing themselves? I would hope so. I think we have some players here.
"Was it Robbie Keane who said, we've always had a style almost from Jack's days where it was a matter of getting in and joining in?
"Let me put it this way, I played with Northern Ireland, while I played with Forest and Forest were a terrific side.
"Then I go and play and be captain of Northern Ireland at a time when, in essence, at Windsor Park there were times when Pat Jennings was our best attacker."