O’Neil needs Irish eyes smiling again

Ireland came mighty close to reaching the 2018 World Cup but it was not to be as a Christian Eriksen-inspired Denmark proved too good in Dublin.

Thoughts turned immediately to the future of boss Martin O’Neill and whether the veteran tactician would want to put himself through the mill any more with a qualification campaign for Euro 2020.

After much deliberation, the former Aston Villa and Sunderland manager penned a new deal with the FAI in January and will guide his charges for the next couple of years.

It was touch and go, with several attractive Premier League vacancies during the season, but the 66-year-old clearly has unfinished business with the men in green.

Qualification for the European Championship will be high on the agenda but there is also a sense that the two-time European Cup winner will want to leave a legacy and something for his successor to build on.

With that in mind, O’Neill has called up five uncapped players for the upcoming friendly with Turkey as he looks to the future.

Goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara plus defenders Declan Rice, Darragh Lenihan, Derrick Williams and Enda Stevens have been included in the squad as the manager looks for a blend of youth and experience.

All connected with the Republic side will be pleased that captain Seamus Coleman is back in the squad a year after suffering injury in a 2018 World Cup qualifier with Wales.

The delay in signing a new deal left fans and pundits frustrated and it may well be that O’Neill has to win the supporters over once again despite almost leading his men to consecutive major finals.

The best way to do that will be to get positive results and victory over the Turks would be the perfect way to start, while they will be on a revenge mission when facing France on May 28 in Paris after Les Blues knocked them out of Euro 2016.

There is no question that Ireland are in a period of transition, with a few players coming towards the end of their international careers and for O’Neill it will be about integrating the new faces into his squad.

Man management has always been his strong point, a fact born out when he spoke to Richard Keogh prior to leaving him out of his latest squad to give him a well-earned rest after a long campaign with Derby County.

Ireland seem a long way off challenging for major honours and, for a country the size of the Republic, making it to a World Cup or European Championship is an achievement in itself.

Once there, then anything can happen and nobody will ever forget the run to the quarter-finals in Italy ‘90 with Jack Charlton at the helm, and the popularity of sports betting in Ireland means that they will always be backed despite long odds.

The Geordie is part of Irish folklore and O’Neill would love to be spoken about in the same breath as the Englishman.

In what is likely to be his last job in football management, he has two years in which to do it.







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