'Go positively - Scotland have shown the way': O'Neill strikes confident tone for Ireland

O’Neill and Keane face crucial qualification double-header against Gibraltar and Germany next month.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

IT ALL SEEMED a little bit too coincidental.

Moments after his first competitive win as Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill rebuked RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue on national television for what he perceived to be a negative line of questioning.

O’Donoghue assured him that wasn’t the case but O’Neill had made his point. A few days earlier, Roy Keane had stressed a similar one during a rare media briefing in Malahide.

“I think everyone seems frightened to death in the media,” he said, “a lot of negativity.

“Strangely enough I’m sure if we qualify, you’ll be the first to celebrate and have a jolly-up.”

Ireland’s Euro 2016 campaign got off to a winning start against Georgia, thanks in no small part to a moment of 90th-minute inspiration from Aiden McGeady.

But the games are coming thick and fast with a double-header against Gibraltar and world champions Germany less than three weeks away.

The second part, at least, is a daunting task given the long shadow cast by the 9-1 aggregate scoreline when the sides met during World Cup qualifying. Going to Gelsenkirchen next month, confidence is a minimum prerequisite.

Yesterday as O’Neill sat down in Abbotstown to name an extended 37-man squad, the question was asked: had O’Neill and Keane co-ordinated to try to preempt any criticism and shield squad morale?

Absolutely not.

“I didn’t know anything about that until somebody pointed it out to me afterwards,” O’Neill said.

“Roy says what he wants to say but we don’t have a conference beforehand to decide you say this and you say that. What’s the point?

Aiden McGeady celebrates scoring his second goal of the game with teammates He's in there somewhere: Aiden McGeady celebrates his winner in Georgia. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Honestly, everybody gets criticism and you just accept it as part of the game. My point is that we have actually won the match and that eventually, because it’s the opening game, becomes the most important issue.”

He added: “Aiden McGeady got confidence from the goals he scored in the match and actually the final result. He picked up great confidence from that and so have the players as well talking to them in the dressing room.

It’s essentially the same group of lads who have had a bit of disappointment over the last couple of years from the Euros right through to the [World Cup] campaign where they thought one or two results maybe could have gone in their favour; I’m talking about the late goal for Austria.

“At the end of it all, the winning of the games does give the team as a group confidence to take on to the next game.”

It is important then to ride the high of Tbilisi — and the unrelenting determination to dig out at result at the last.

Scotland showed the power of positive thinking in Dortmund last month. After falling behind to an early Thomas Muller goal, they held firm in the face of Germany’s attacks and eventually struck on the counter for an equaliser in the second half.

The sides were level for just four minutes before Muller scored what turned out to be the winner.

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Germany Soccer Euro Scotland Source: AP/Press Association Images

It doesn’t change much — Germany have three points as expected, Scotland have none — but it showed that Jogi Löw’s side aren’t invincible.

“It wouldn’t colour my thinking about it,” O’Neill explained.

“I think Scotland eventually did very well in the game. Germany might have been out of sight early on in the match but when Scotland got to grips with it, they certainly caused them plenty of problems, got the equaliser, and might have considered themselves a wee bit unlucky.”

There was a caveat, too.

“I think Scotland possibly may have had Germany at a time when they were still in celebratory mood. Germany have had a couple of changes in the side as well.

Overall it’s not going to change the approach. There’s little point in sitting there and trying to defend all day against them. When the time comes we want to be really positive in the game, just as positive as Scotland were particularly in the second half.

A good performance against minnows Gibraltar in Dublin would certainly help, as would a few goals. O’Neill and his squad will meet up in Dublin on 7 October, by which stage the provisional panel will have been whittled down.

“I don’t think we should be fearing [Germany],” O’Neill said.

“Some of the players that will be involved in the game hopefully will be a bit fitter and really tuned in and ready for the game. It doesn’t mean that we might not suffer a defeat.

“We were beaten the last couple of times against them but [the mood] has been really positive.

“Go positively. Scotland have shown the way. Why should we not pick up the pieces?”

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Niall Kelly

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