Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 14°C Friday 18 September 2020

'You just need to get into players' minds, and say to them: We can do this.'

Martin O’Neill says his players are growing in confidence owing to recent positive results.

The Irish team pictured ahead of their game with Austria.
The Irish team pictured ahead of their game with Austria.

CAST YOUR MINDS back to Vienna last weekend and forget the result. Just contemplate one particular factor.

Consider the teams represented in Austria’s starting XI: Bayer 04 Leverkusen (3), FC Augsburg, Tottenham, Bayern Munich, VfB Stuttgart, Schalke 04, RB Leipzig, Stoke and Basel.

To put this into further perspective, six of the team are playing with clubs who are in the Champions League — a feat that no one in Ireland’s current squad can claim to be emulating.

Indeed, of the Boys in Green’s side that began their most recent World Cup qualifier, four are playing in the Championship, while two (Darren Randolph and Jon Walters) are not regular starters for their clubs.

Therefore, when you look at the game with this contrast in mind, it’s more than a little surprising that the visitors earned a deserved 1-0 win on the night.

Yet Ireland have a history of punching above their weight at international level, from the defeat of Italy at Euro 2016 to the one in Giants Stadium in 1994, when their opponents had several members of the Milan side that had just delivered a masterclass in the Champions League final 4-0 win over Barcelona.

Martin O’Neill, too, is familiar with the feeling of overachievement. The Derry native was part of the Nottingham Forest side that won two European Cups and a league. As a manager, O’Neill won the League Cup twice with Leicester and almost guided Aston Villa to Champions League qualification in the 2008-09 season (they were third with 25 games played).

Moreover, at Celtic, he helped the club regularly qualify for the Champions League and earn famous European victories over Barcelona, Liverpool and Juventus among others. Even during his brief and ill-fated spell at Sunderland, O’Neill helped the club to some notable wins, including a memorable defeat of Manchester City.

mon Martin O'Neill pictured at the launch of the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme in Aviva Stadium. Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

Austria last Saturday must also rank as one of O’Neill’s best results. Indeed, since his Ireland tenure began, perhaps only the defeats of Germany, Italy and Bosnia trump it in terms of significance.

It was, most people agreed, Ireland’s best away result in a qualifier since a Jack Charlton-managed side beat Scotland in 1987.

And speaking at the launch of the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme in Aviva Stadium on Thursday, O’Neill said he was encouraged at how Ireland have played during this campaign despite missing key players such as Shane Long, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick at various stages.

The 64-year-old coach also played down suggestions by some critics that Ireland top Group D despite supposedly failing to play to the level they managed at Euro 2016, arguing that tournament football and qualifying games are inherently different primarily owing to the contrasting time spans in which they are played.

Asked what his secret was in seemingly getting the Irish team to achieve their maximum level, O’Neill preferred to credit the players for the excellent recent run of results.

If players have a really strong attitude to the game, and maybe you have to encourage that at times and get players to believe in themselves, who knows what you can do?

“And then when you’ve got players who have real, genuine ability, that’s never a problem.

Managing players like Henrik Larsson (at Celtic), it was never a problem. Maybe I had words with him twice in the four years that I was working with him there.

“But you knew he had the ability to pull the manager out of a tight position.

“If you haven’t got that in your side then you work on other things… I’m not saying we’ve a Gareth Bale, but (there are) a lot of good players with a very strong attitude, and that’s great. They want to play, and I think that’s really lovely as well.”

As O’Neill suggests, there appears to be a growing sense of belief within this Ireland team. Ever since a 1-1 draw at home to Scotland in June 2015, an outcome that put their Euro 2016 hopes in serious doubt, the team have gone from strength to strength.

The Irish side have pulled off a number of big results over the past 18 months to restore people’s dwindling faith in the Boys in Green following the inescapable sense of ennui amid the post-Giovanni Trapattoni era.

Even fringe members of the squad appear to have really bought into O’Neill’s methods. Despite not always being an automatic starter for relegation-threatened Premier League side Hull, David Meyler produced an accomplished display at the heart of Ireland’s midfield in Vienna, having replaced the injured Glenn Whelan on 24 minutes.

Meyler was one of only two outfield Irish squad members who didn’t play a minute of action at Euro 2016 (Cyrus Christie being the other), and O’Neill singled out the ex-Cork City player as an example of how far self-belief can take a footballer, while eliciting comparisons with his own time as a footballer to boot.

When I was in my early days as a player at Nottingham Forest, before Brian Clough came along and I was having some international matches, it was: ‘Can you make the step up to play against the Germans, to play against the Bulgarians, who were very strong at the time,’” O’Neill recalled.

“But it was never a problem to me at Nottingham Forest, we were parading around Europe in matches. So in fact, it’s about saying, ‘I can take this easily in my stride’.

For instance, David Meyler, he got left out of the Hull side but he came in and performed splendidly for us. Now, when it comes around to March time, I don’t know if David Meyler will have played 12 games, hopefully he’s still fit.

“But he will then think, ‘I can do this’. He will draw on his experiences of the time he played full-back for us out in Gelsinkerchin (against Germany)… And those sort of things I nearly forget myself.

He played there, he took the game in his stride, he got into the match — sometimes it takes people ages to get warmed up, but he came in, ready to go into the game.

“Then you might have to make adjustments, some of the Championship players might have to do the same thing, so all of those things you just need to get into players’ minds, and say to them, ‘We can do this’.”

Republic of Ireland Manager Martin O’Neill and former Republic of Ireland International Keith Andrews were on hand today to launch the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme in Aviva Stadium. The five-a-side school blitzes are open to boys and girls from 4th, 5th and 6th class. Registration will close on February 17th. For further information or to register your school please see or

The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

Joe Hart: I don’t hate Guardiola>

‘It was 3 in the morning, I went back to the training ground and he was in his office watching a game’>

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

Read next: