O’Neill gets down to business ahead of Latvia clash
Robbie Keane remains as captain for two friendly encounters
Manager Martin O’Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane take their first Republic of Ireland training session at Gannon Park in Malahide. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Getty Images
Having worked a room of few familiar faces like a reunion of long lost friends on Tuesday, it appears Martin O’Neill is already feeling at home in his new role as Republic of Ireland manager.
His unveiling on Saturday was impressive and good-spirited but he upped it a notch for today’s media briefing after his first training session and the congregation swooned. The feel-good factor rarely lasts, but everyone enjoys it while it does.
There was a better symmetry to the relationship today. Jokes were well-timed and well-received and no prompting of the audience was necessary, but O’Neill did hint there would be some serious issues to discuss in-house soon enough.
Robbie Keane, for instance, may regret calling for a man with “balls” because O’Neill hardly backed his captain to lead his men into the Euro 2016 qualifiers, while Stephen Ireland will not, it seems, be afforded too much energy from management if it appears he needs to be convinced to return to international football.
The skipper will be 34 by the time the first qualifier rolls around in September and though O’Neill insisted today that no change is imminent, he intends revisiting the issue in the new year.
“Robbie arrived in last night,” said O’Neill, “I haven’t had a chance to speak with him one on one, other than a few words, and again today. I wouldn’t have thought anything would change at this minute, in the immediate time we have, I don’t see any point in doing that.
“After these two games are over, I will have time to consider these things but I wouldn’t be changing that now.”
Keane’s call for a no-nonsense manager was aimed, it seemed, at players like Ireland, who arrived at Villa shortly after O’Neill departed in August 2010 and who is enjoying something of a return to form at new club Stoke at the moment.
“That’s a long story,” said O’Neill of Ireland’s move to Villa, one that involved James Milner’s transfer to Manchester City and one “for another day”, but ultimately the deal wasn’t done under O’Neill’s watch and their paths did not cross.
They inevitably will, however, now that he is where he is, but O’Neill, who is understood to have been open to bringing Ireland to Villa at the time, will not be engaging in a charm offensive in his efforts to make it happen at international level.
“I don’t know Stephen that well and therefore I will really have to think about it,” he said before adding: “It shouldn’t be mind boggling. If people want to play for a start, that helps things immensely. If you are going to have to force people to play than that might become a different issue, but we’ll see.”