Martin O’Neill’s men limber up for Italy test

Andy Keogh looks set to pursue career in Perth

James McClean, Shane Duffy and Stephen Quinn during a squad training session at Gannon Park, Malahide. Photograph: Inpho

James McClean, Shane Duffy and Stephen Quinn during a squad training session at Gannon Park, Malahide. Photograph: Inpho

 

The fact that he can’t make a squad of 30-plus, half of whom seem to be missing at least one game due to a wedding, seems to have persuaded Andy Keogh that he has little left to lose on the international front. Having endured several frustrating seasons in England, the 28-year-old, who has clearly developed a taste for living by the sea, is trading Blackpool for Perth.

It’s Perth Glory to be precise: an A-League club that has struggled to live up to the latter part of its name over the last few seasons but one which still has enough to offer to be an attractive option for an Irishman whose championship options have been hit by the tightening budgets that are a consequence of financial fair play.

Despite the distance, he hopes Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane will continue to keep an eye on him. “It may be difficult,” he admits, “but if I start scoring goals then hopefully they’ll have to take notice.” He may have had more luck with the previous regime. Giovanni Trapattoni, one suspects, didn’t cared much what neck of the woods the DVDs landed on his doormat from.

Back in Malahide yesterday, the Derby players trained for the first time since the trauma of Saturday’s Championship play-off defeat at Wembley O’Neill was keen to allow them pick themselves up in their own time, but all took part in a session that Ciaran Clark sat out due to a back problem picked up the previous day.

The defender should be available for Saturday’s game against Italy, although whether he makes the golf outing this morning that led to the cancellation of a day’s training is far less certain. Serious contenders The manager admits that his side can expect a tough time against an Italy side that will be fine-tuning things ahead of a World Cup at which they will figure on the list of serious contenders.

“Italy are obviously in final preparations for the World Cup. So they will, I assume, be pretty strong,” he said. “They could be experimental in some shape but they’ve so many players that they can change the side and still be very strong.

“I’ve been an admirer of Italian football for a long time, absolutely. In recent years perhaps, Spanish football, with Barcelona and Real Madrid, have been very, very strong. And with the extra spring of money into the Premier League, the Italian league seems to have lost a little bit of its lustre. But am I am an admirer of them? Absolutely. They’re a big tournament team as well. They always turn it on . . . other than ’66.”

Their win in Dublin in the early stages of their build-up to the 2006 World Cup gave a hint of the form they would show in Germany, and Ireland could do without them turning on the pre-tournament style this time as anything less than a win is likely to see the team’s ranking slip again, quite possibly into the seventies, a new low for them, when Fifa’s new list is issued at the tail end of next week.

It’s not an attractive scenario but O’Neill insists he has no regrets about a schedule that has potential to make life a little awkward for him.

Experimentation “Of course, you’d like to win the games. They couldn’t be more difficult for us really and also the fact we are having a bit of experimentation, changing little systems and personnel during the course of it.

“For me, though, it will be great because eventually it will stand us in good stead for the games coming up in September time. Of course, you would like to get the results to go with it and, really, in the last two games, I think we should have won. That said, we’ll continue to go on in this vein and see how it takes us.”

O’Neill says he is glad to have his old colleagues Steve Walford and Steve Guppy in for the games but has yet to give any serious consideration to whether the pair might be asked to stick around for the longer term. Both, he insists, have other options and he is not entirely certain what he is in a position to offer them.

“These roles would be part-time roles so I would really have to look at those things. Stevie Guppy also has had an offer himself to go on a full-time basis. I think we kind of enjoy working with each other. But we’ll see. I can’t promise anything. Nor can I promise to keep people who can have a full-time job elsewhere.”

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