Martin O'Neill settling scores as familiar foes await
Ireland boss more worked up about RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue than Nations League draw
Ireland’s Shane Duffy scoring against Denmark last November. Martin O’Neill said the eventual 5-1 loss to Denmark was “still fresh in the memory”. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
It remains to be seen whether the Uefa’s Nations League really does inject a bit of life into the sort of games we have grown used to dozing through down the years, but at least there will be the post-match interviews to look forward to.
There was vague talk from Ireland manager Martin O’Neill after the draw in Lausanne of having a score to settle with Denmark towards the end of the year. Apparently, though, he had already waited long enough to address the one with RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue.
The full interview, posted later by the broadcaster on social media, is quite a sight to behold, although at least, after an event jam-packed with so much faux excitement, the Northerner’s dislike for the very amiable Corkman certainly came across as pretty heartfelt.
O’Neill didn’t get nearly so worked up about the draw itself despite his side being landing in a group with the team that they effectively put us out of the World Cup in dramatic fashion last October, and the one that, in turn, ended Ireland’s own hopes of getting to Russia.
“We know the opposition and they know us,” was the gist of his reaction. His employers should stick that on a few billboards and see how many tickets they shift.
“Ireland will come at us with a thirst for revenge,” the former Feyenoord striker started, encouragingly enough, before continuing in a more damning fashion, “but they won’t surprise us, we know now what tricks they have up their sleeves….and what ones they don’t.”
O’Neill will feel that his side can do better against the Danes and well again against the Welsh, but it is clear that Ireland could have had an easier or more attractive draw for this first edition of what must be one of the game’s most convoluted competitions. Still, the manager seemed content enough with the task he had been handed.
“We beat Wales to qualify for the playoffs, and then we’ve got Denmark, who beat us in the playoffs, beat us convincingly in the second game. So, matches that I think we all know each other pretty well. It [the 5-1 loss to Denmark] is still fresh in the memory, so we would want to avenge that if at all possible.”
Wales will first have the opportunity to avenge their rather narrower defeat at the hands of the Irish in Cardiff. Newly installed manager Ryan Giggs is set to make his competitive debut in the role when the two sides come face to face at the same stadium on September 6th.
Ireland will be back in Denmark, and most likely Copenhagen, on November 19th, just over a year on from the play-off game there.
The two home games will be completed in a three-day spell in mid-October, starting with the visit of Hareide’s side on October 13th.
“We’ve got some friendly games coming up now,” said O’Neill. “I think that that’s maybe a time for us to experiment, a time to bring some of the younger players through. I think these games, starting in September, have a significance all of the own, so I think the experimentation might have to disappear.
“Friendly games over the last couple of years became important, they had some impact on coefficients, but after all, they were just friendly matches. Here there’s competition attached, it’s important, there’s promotion, there’s relegation, and all of those things eventually affect the placings for qualifying for the European nations (Championships) so yeah, I am in total agreement with it; once I found out what the rules actually were; great!”
There is indeed more that little bit more at stake than in friendlies. The Irish will be hoping to put themselves in a position to take one of the two European Championship places on offer to sides in Leagues A and B – they will progress to a play-off for the League B one by winning their three-team group and, a little oddly, retain an outside shot at the League A one by finishing second or even third – and the seedings for the Euro2020 qualifiers proper will be shaped by results in this competition.
If that’s not enough to put bums on seats then the FAI is in trouble because the post-match entertainment is exclusive to the telly.