'It’s the start of a new era' - Big day for Irish football as senior squad moves home

Martin O’Neill and his players had their first training ground in Abbottstown ahead of this week’s Euro 2016 qualifier.

A view of the new FAI training complex in Abbotstown The FAI's National Training Centre in Dublin. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

IT WAS ALL CHANGE for Ireland’s senior squad this morning as the players and management team were welcomed to their new home in Abbottstown.

For the past 12 years, the international team has trained on Malahide United’s facilities at Gannon Park and stayed at the nearby Portmarnock Hotel. However, today marked the beginning of a new era as Martin O’Neill’s men took part in a light session at the FAI’s Training Centre on the National Sports Campus.

The move is part of a wider project in the north Dublin location, which will see facilities built for several Irish sports bodies as well as a National Indoor Arena.

Construction of the site, just yards from the FAI Headquarters, commenced in March 2014 and it is not due to be completed until October 2015 with work still ongoing. Overseen by the company which is behind the Aviva Stadium and Croke Park pitches, Clive Richardson Ltd, there are six full-size floodlit pitches (five grass and one artificial) and a specialised goalkeeping area.

A view of the new FAI training complex in Abbotstown One of the six pitches. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

There is also four changing rooms, a lecture theatre, a classroom and a fully-equipped kitchen area, while the squad’s accommodation is now at the Castleknock Hotel and Country Club.

“It’s very nice,” said O’Neill when asked about the new surroundings. “There’s still a bit of work to do but it’s really good. The pitch is great and I think the players have enjoyed it.

“It’s a different environment and it’s the first time for the players to be here but I think they are impressed. Eventually they will get used it. This is what they had in mind with the headquarters in the background so it is coming to fruition.

At some stage or another it was going to happen and I think it is fantastic. The pitch is great and it’s a positive step for the FAI.”

During his squad announcement press conference earlier this month, the Derry man had admitted that he was excited by the switch, but sad to say goodbye to their old training ground.

“Will I be sorry to leave Malahide? Absolutely. The hotel at Portmarnock looked after us brilliantly and the grounds boys at Malahide were exceptionally brilliant. They always had the pitch looking well, certainly in my time there.

“We have to look forward now and this will be great. It’s the start of a new era here at Abbottstown and I’m sure the players will dig in and be excited by it.”

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane O'Neill and Keane watch on this afternoon. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

With four days to go until Ireland play Gibraltar away in the first of two back-to-back Euro 2016 qualifiers, 26 of the 28-man panel were involved today. Colorado Rapids striker Kevin Doyle flies in from the US later while Jon Walters has been granted leave as he attempts to sort out his club future before the transfer window closes tomorrow evening.

The Stoke City man expressed his frustration at the new deal being offered to him at the Britannia Stadium and Norwich City have had two bids rejected for him already.

“There may be something happening with him,” O’Neill explained. “He wasn’t completely sure and there was little point in coming here this morning and having to travel back.

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“He’s not terribly sure at this minute but while there is a possibility that something may be happening so it’s best until the transfer deadline is finished.”

A view from Republic of Ireland training today The Ireland players warm up on the new pitch. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Ahead of the trip to Portugal, there was a laid-back feel to the day and the media even got a rare opportunity to watch the entire session (we’re normally asked to leave after the first 15 minutes).

Considering Ireland made light work of Gibraltar in the corresponding fixture last October with Robbie Keane scoring a first half hat-trick en route to a 7-0 drubbing, many see Friday’s match as little more than a formality.

O’Neill was quick to emphasise the fact that he needs his players fully-focused, however, as anything less than six points from these two matches would end Ireland’s challenge for a Euro 2016 play-off place.

“This game is very important to us and I don’t think we can look at anything else other than trying to win this game on Friday night,” he added.

The build-up will be exactly for that. Today would have been gentle regardless of who we were playing on Friday, but really it’s a matter of getting focused now.

“Some players have come in, you’ll know yourself that one or two have been doing very well at club level, one or two not that brilliantly so far, and one or two haven’t played at all. So it’s just a matter of gathering us all together and galvanising us for the game.”  

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