Martin O’Neill admits he didn’t understand impact of friendlies on a country’s World Cup seeding

FAI chief executive John Delaney has to fill in the Ireland boss on their significance

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill at yesterday’s press conference at the Carlton Hotel, Blanchardstown. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill at yesterday’s press conference at the Carlton Hotel, Blanchardstown. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 01:00

Having won one and drawn one so far, there is no great cause for regret, but Martin O’Neill made the surprising admission yesterday that he had not really understood the impact of friendly internationals on a country’s seeding for the World Cup until it was explained to him by FAI chief executive John Delaney.

“I must admit I didn’t know until John told me how important those particular things are,” he said yesterday. “He mentioned some weeks ago how important it is to win certain friendlies. I thought it was only a friendly and it didn’t count but they do seem to count. I wasn’t aware of that.”

The first two results under O’Neill were good enough to halt the team’s slide down the Fifa ranking list, but the Republic of Ireland still lie 67th in the world, sandwiched between Jordan and Uzbekistan, and 34th in Europe, a position that could potentially give rise to a fifth-place seeding if it is not improved upon.

‘Disappointing year’
“We are where we are,” O’Neill observed. “If it’s been a disappointing year and we’ve dropped from 41 to 67; that’s where we stand. Do I want to improve it? Obviously I do. Are you going to improve it by winning some matches? Yes. Do I always want to take the easy option? I don’t think so. Do I want to get absolutely thrashed in some matches (with resulting consequences for confidence of players)? I’m not so sure I really want that either. Are we going to win a game of no benefit to us? I’ve no idea. But I will formulate one. If we are going to drop to fifth seed potentially for the World Cup, of course I have to have a look at that.”

Ireland’s next friendly is against Serbia in March but O’Neill was due to speak with Delaney later yesterday about some of the options for later in the year with an end-of-season trip to the United States likely in order to provide paid opposition for teams preparing for the World Cup.

O’Neill admitted that there might be some value in waiting until after the draw for the qualifying stages of the European Championships, as he would not wish to play any teams that Ireland would then have to face in competitive games.

Having sensed that some of those asking the questions were angling for a trip away, however, he began to good naturedly play to the gallery. “I’ve tried to impress on John that Barbados have a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful national side and we could bed in for 12 days there,” he joked.

More seriously
However, more seriously he said that he would travel to the Euro 2016 draw in Nice on February 23rd and almost certainly be at the World Cup (as will Roy Keane, it seems) whether it is with his ITV or FAI hat on.

O’Neill said he was in regular contact with Keane and a couple of others being lined up to lend a hand with the coaching for the longer stints away.

He anticipates taking in a few league games once the season is up and running again. “I think someone possibly mentioned here the fact that it might just be a PR exercise if you start coming to matches in the League of Ireland. That might be right. But then I was reminded that about seven or eight players currently playing League of Ireland football before they were transferred to England.

“So you never know; there might just be someone who is good enough and playing here – maybe two or three – and who could within a year be playing Premiership football and then hopefully for the Republic.”