Martin O’Neill: inexperienced Ireland can step up in Cardiff

Familiar faces will be missing for Thursday’s Uefa Nations League opener against Wales

Preston North End’s Graham Burke could build on his two international caps against Wales or Poland. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Preston North End’s Graham Burke could build on his two international caps against Wales or Poland. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Martin O’Neill will use the Nations League to blood a new wave of Republic of Ireland internationals in competitive football.

Irleand launch their campaign in Wales on Thursday evening shorn of the likes of Robbie Brady, James McCarthy and Shane Long through injury, Harry Arter after a training ground showdown with assistant manager Roy Keane and emerging star Declan Rice as he considers England’s overtures.

With stalwart John O’Shea having retired from international football and recent additions Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire also injured, O’Neill is having to cast the net ever wider and is aware there will be a greater than usual lack of experience among his squad in Cardiff, where his side won in October last year to book a World Cup play-off spot.

Asked if that kind of night represented the benchmark for his team, the Ireland boss said: “It would be nice to say that, but some of the lads involved on Thursday night won’t have had that experience.

“It is looking for them to really step up, whatever they are doing or not doing at club level, if they are selected on Thursday night.

“They have 90 minutes in front of them, which some of them might not have experienced before and it will be a tough ask.

“But that is where you come in. It is a matter of raising players to play this international game, which is totally different to a match at Championship level, perhaps even when they haven’t been involved for the full 90 minutes on the previous Saturday.

“But that is my job.”

The win over Wales handed the Republic a showdown with Denmark, whose 5-1 second-leg victory at the Aviva Stadium sent them, rather than O’Neill’s men to Russia, and the three sides find themselves pitched into battle once again in Uefa’s new competition.

That defeat by the Danes was Ireland’s last competitive game, but the manager insists that will not be on their minds as they set out on their latest adventure.

He said: “The whole point is that we are starting afresh again, and we are going for it, and the irony of it is that we are in against Denmark, who beat us, and Wales, who we beat.

“So Wales might turn around and think that they have a point to prove against us, but if that is a motivation in itself, then I haven’t a problem with it.”

Chris Coleman was in charge of the Welsh the night James McClean’s lone strike ended their World Cup dream, but he has since been replaced by Ryan Giggs, a man for whom O’Neill’s assistant Keane retains immense affection and respect from their hugely successful time together at Manchester United.

The manager said: “Obviously, international football at this moment is new for Ryan, I’m sure he’ll get the hang of it. I’m sure he is looking forward to it, just like myself and Roy.”

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