Martin O'Neill: Austria game ‘the be-all and end-all'
Starting line-up for clash against Uruguay at the Aviva should bear a more familiar look
Martin O’Neill: “In terms of confidence, or a knock to confidence, I’m really not too bothered.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Ireland’s squad has a slightly more substantial feel to it as some of Martin O’Neill’s established regulars arrive ahead of the game against Uruguay on Sunday. But the manager insists that the focus remains firmly on Austria with results in the meantime of little consequence or concern.
“In terms of confidence, or a knock to confidence, I’m really not too bothered,” he said in the wake of Ireland rather comprehensive 3-1 defeat by Mexico at the MetLife stadium on Thursday night.
“Most of the things that happened today, I kind of expected. And the same might occur against Uruguay. But the be-all and end-all is the Austria game.”
O’Neill said he was encouraged by the fact that players like Shane Duffy and Daryl Murphy had got minutes on the clock after long lay-offs at club level and assuming they do not struggle in the wake of the game and long trip home then both are likely to get more game time against the South Americans.
Others, like James McClean, are likely to be allowed to return to more familiar roles after having been played out of position in New Jersey and there will be some fresh legs too as players given time off after the end of the Premier League season join up with the group.
“Look, no one wants to get beat but I’m not deflated; this is not an act. I always told you how I felt about the friendly games,” said the manager whose squad will train in Abbotstown this morning.
“It’s totally about the build-up to the Austria game. That’s what I want. We’ve a couple of players who’ve only finished the season 10 days ago and we’ll do as little bit of work beforehand but we won’t be able to do much before Sunday.”
The Uruguayans have the potential to provide another test for O’Neill and his men although unlike Mexico they have no qualifiers or tournament to worry about until August and it remains to be seen how seriously they take this trip to Dublin.
They arrive after a fairly miserable year with a poor showing at the Copa America followed, more recently, by a disappointing run of results in their World Cup qualifying campaign and so, like Mexico, they could certainly do with securing a decent result against Ireland.
Luis Suarez will be absent due to injury having withdrawn from Oscar Tabarez’s original squad but there are some standout talents in a fairly mixed travelling party with PSG’s Edinson Cavani, Jose Maria Gimenez of Atletico Madrid and Porto’s Maxi Pereira all included.
Cavani, in particular, has the potential to add real quality to the occasion with his goal in Uruguay’s 3-2 win the last time they were here comfortably the pick of the bunch.
In the event that both men start, Duffy would need to improve on Thursday’s performance if he is avoid another difficult night but after a few months on the sidelines the Derryman seems happy enough with the way he is easing his way back into things ahead of next weekend’s World Cup qualifier.
“It’s another step towards where I want to be,” says the 25 year-old who has not played competitively since the start of March.
“We know in the changing room what we have to do in those big games and this [the Mexico match] was just an exercise in getting fit, getting experience. Listen, it’s going to be a different thing altogether against Austria.
“It’s our biggest game of the campaign,” he says. “It’s a huge game where we’re looking for another three points. Obviously Wales play Serbia and hopefully they can take points off each other but it’s about us and we have to do the business. We always produce in the big games and we have confidence to do the same again.”
After a night on which O’Neill handed out a couple of international debuts and a couple more first senior starts, the team should certainly have a more settled feel to it when Marcel Koller and the Austrians arrive and with the likes of Wes Hoolahan, Glenn Whelan and Stephen Ward all firmly in contention to start, Dublin should be represented from the start again.
Against Mexico, it was not at the outset; the first time that had happened for 20 years. “Ah,” joked O’Neill afterwards, “it was only a friendly.”