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Tuesday 25 September 2018

Putting his foot down

O'Neill's take on social media should be well heeded by Irish players as focus turns to Poland

Republic of Ireland's James McClean. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland's James McClean. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

THE next time James McClean reaches for his smartphone, he would be well advised to note Martin O'Neill's latest ideas on electronic media and if possible review the video of the new Ireland manager's pre-Poland press conference.

O'Neill wasn't exactly steely-eyed when he told journalists that he had already had words with McClean and when someone suggested that he might be dropped as a result of his latest tweeted outburst, the response from the top table was raised eyebrows and mild scorn.

But the underlying message was very clear indeed and it would be no surprise if McClean's adventures in the virtual world remained firmly social and steered clear of anything less homely.

McClean really needs to take a step back and have a good look at what he been doing on the tweet machine.

There is no profit for him in revisiting 40 years of trauma and turmoil even if it remains raw for many on both sides of the divide.

It is particularly sensitive given the fact that O'Neill captained Northern Ireland in his day and there is still a big sense of grievance within the IFA about the ongoing greening of many young players schooled by coaches up North.

And apart altogether from the unique circumstances which apply, it is simply not sustainable for a footballer to be so politically active and no matter what way you view McClean's tweets, he must be reined in by O'Neill. As a test of the new regime's disciplinary resolve, it his hardly major but McClean has done this too often and twice under O'Neill.

That said, he was a revelation against Latvia, much more like the player O'Neill plucked from the Sunderland reserves and threw into the Premier League deep end.

Discipline will be required but perhaps he should tell his captain Robbie Keane to take McClean to one side and explain some home truths.

Keane expressed strong views about squad discipline before O'Neill was appointed and presumably, will feel that McClean's latest outburst, however heartfelt, is not acceptable.

It would be the right route to take and would underline Keane's worth as skipper. It would have been foolish, in an immediate sense, for O'Neill to make any other choice the status quo in terms of the captaincy and while he may decide to change things further down the road, as long as goals keep flying in and his legs remain supple, steady as she goes will by the motto.

There were many that viewed Giovanni Trapattoni's decision to pick Keane as skipper rather than Richard Dunne, Glenn Whelan or perhaps John O'Shea as a mistake.

But over time, Keane has grown into the job and clearly enjoys the role. Indeed, he likes it so much that O'Neill might well create a problem by handing it to someone else.

Given the fact that international goal scoring has never been a strength for Irish teams, why would O'Neill rock the boat when his only safe bet in that department in Keane?

Over the longer term, there are several candidates for the job but when Noel King chose Seamus Coleman to lead Ireland against Kazakhstan, he put down a marker.

Coleman is young, fresh and his talent is expanding with every international game he plays. He is the model professional at club level too and if he stays the course at Everton, there many in Goodison that feel he would be a natural captain.

There are candidates, however. O'Shea has already done the job and would seem perfect for the task while Marc Wilson is a natural leader.

O'Shea may not start and it will be interesting to see if O'Neill agrees with King and gives Coleman the armband.

For the moment, though, O'Neill will leave well enough along and judging by Keane's performance against Latvia, he will be able to call on Ireland's record goal scorer for the foreseeable future.

O'Neill did allow himself room to manoeuvre in his opening press conference when he suggested that a time might come when Keane would prefer to take a step back and pour all his energy into what he does best.

But that's for another day and until O'Neill has a made a full assessment of the resources at his disposal and the best way to deploy them, Keane will be his on field leader.

For Poland, he will sit on the bench which should give Shane Long a chance to register his claim to a first team place as Ireland's cutting edge.

Keane's Achilles problem is a concern and according to himself, will need surgery sooner rather than later.

Next Monday appears to be a big day for him when he will visit specialist in Los Angeles.

O'Neill will make a few more changes but he is keeping the fine detail of team selection to himself and perhaps setting the tone for bigger occasions down the line.

It is interesting to note that after the initial flush of quotes from O'Neill, the flow has reduced considerably and this is, perhaps, something we should get used to.

Certainly, the idea that he and Roy Keane would share media duties hit a brick wall on Sunday when O'Neill cancelled the scheduled briefing and the word was that his No9 2. fancy deputising.

Which is fair enough. While he was Ipswich boss, he talked too much and earned a reputation as something of a motor mouth, ready to offer a trenchant opinion on a range of subject which were not necessarily relevant to the pursuit of points in the English Championship. Far better for him to submerge himself in the bosom of the squad and do his work there, largely unnoticed.

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