Martin O’Neill takes a positive from tough situation

Prospect of travelling to Celtic Park for qualifier gives manager a needed boost after draw

Republic of Ireland  manager Martin O’Neill Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 01:01

Having been handed Germany as top seeds, as well as strong rivals for the group’s other top-two positions, and an opening sequence of games that involves three away trips this side of Christmas, Martin O’Neill might be forgiven for seizing upon a positive out of yesterday’s Euro2016 draw.

Sure enough, he seemed pretty taken with the idea that he, Roy Keane and Ireland are likely to be heading to Celtic Park in the autumn.

With Hampden unavailable for football until the start of 2015 in the wake of its use for the Commonwealth games, the Scots must move their opening home games of the campaign.

Georgia in October and Ireland a month later are, it turns out, the fixtures affected and with Celtic’s stadium holding significantly more than Ibrox it seems the latter match will almost certainly go to O’Neill’s old stomping ground.

“That would be great if that’s the case,” he said yesterday. “I’ve only been back a couple of times and that was only for charity games, I haven’t gone there for a competitive game. It’s like anything else the torch has been passed on but going back to Celtic, that would be terrific.”

Cautious Optimism
More generally, O’Neill’s tone was the usual sort of cautious optimism that managers like to convey occasions like these with the 61-year-old describing the suggestion that Germany might win all of their games as “defeatist” but acknowledging that his side’s greater battle will be Poland, Scotland and, he insisted, Georgia in a group that also includes debutants Gibraltar.

“It’s a tough group but I’m genuinely excited,” he said. “I assume anyone from an outside viewpoint will be looking at Germany as the outstanding side. And at this minute in time they probably are. But at home, if we give a really proper approach there is no reason why we can’t give them a game.”

After that, he suggested, “it’s going to be a battle all the way through . . . because it seems that the teams are capable of talking points off one another.”

As for the order of the games, which was announced by Uefa some three hours after the line ups were known, he said: “Georgia Germany and Scotland all away . . . that’s three out of our first four games all away from home against seriously tough opposition but the draw’s been made and nobody can alter things. It’s a tough start for us but one that we’re still looking forward to.”

Spectacle
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan seemed excited too although clearly more about the energy and emotion that might be involved in encounters between Ireland and Scotland than the spectacle the games are likely to produce.

“I don’t think they’ll be too cosmic, to be honest with you” he said. “I think they will be a bit like British cup ties . . . I think the crowd will make it that way.”

If there is to be a serious prospect of qualifying automatically or at the very least taking the group’s play-off spot then Ireland will surely have start winning homes games against serious rivals again and, most likely, picking up some good ones away too.

Certainly, O’Neill wouldn’t want his side to be chasing things towards the end of a campaign that finishes up with a home game against Germany on Thursday, October 8th, of next year and a trip to Poland three days later.

Over the course the qualifiers, which will include a couple of Uefa’s new Week of Football schedules, Ireland, in fact, play on every day of the week bar Wednesday which will no longer be used.

Northern Ireland, meanwhile, enjoyed slightly mixed fortunes in yesterday’s draw with Michael O’Neill’s men landing Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands.