'If John Delaney had said 'We want a young, vibrant side so don't worry about qualification' we could have done that'

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill says his players must ‘rise to the occasion’ as he prepares to name his squad for the upcoming double-header.

IRELAND MANAGER MARTIN O’Neill has reiterated that his remit is to get the team to major tournaments.

The Derry man, who is approaching his fourth year in the job, led the Boys in Green to Euro 2016 via the play-offs on his first attempt.

Martin O’Neill O'Neill on the touchline. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Now, with two qualifiers remaining in the 2018 World Cup campaign, Ireland sit third in Group D behind leaders Serbia and second-placed Wales after a disappointing September that produced just one point from a possible six.

With just two members of the most recent squad under the age of 25, there are worries that O’Neill isn’t looking to the future by blooding young players. However, the former Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland boss insists that while they are always searching for new talent, his main priority is to be competitive at international level.

“You want to try and qualify for competitions, that’s my job,” O’Neill told FAI TV. “If, for instance, I had taken up the mantle here almost four years ago and John Delaney had said to me ‘What we want Martin, in four years’ time is a young side that is vibrant and ready to go, so don’t worry about qualification’ I think we could have done that quite easily.

“We could have said to some of the old guard, who have been really fine players for the national side, ‘Listen lads, time is up and we’re going with this youth policy’.

“But we’d still want to qualify for a competition and some of the old guard would have said to me ‘Well that’s fine, I still want to play and if someone comes along who is younger and better than me I will be pushed aside’, which is the nature of the game.

“What has happened is some of the older players have stuck with it and they have been excellent for us. In that sense, at this minute what we’re looking for is younger players of that quality to come through and take their place. Not just take their place for one or two games, but be good enough to compete at this level.

That’s the most important thing. Whatever you say about international football, it’s a step up for a lot of the players and this is where we have to compete. So far, we’ve been able to do that in the last couple of years. Okay, we’ve had a hiccup in the last few weeks but we can rectify that.”

O’Neill will be in Dublin tomorrow to name his provisional squad for the home game against Moldova on 6 October and the final group match in Cardiff three days later.

Maximum points still may not guarantee a play-off place if Ireland were to finish as the lowest-ranked runner-up, but the 65-year-old maintains that it’s a scenario he would have taken before a ball was kicked.

“We got off to a really fine start,” he added. “In the previous campaign, we got off to a reasonable start and then we stuttered during the middle of it and we came on very strongly to go through — beating the world champions, which was massive.

“We have to rise to the occasion again, this is it. We have two games and we know that if we win those two we will be desperately unlucky not to be in the play-offs.

“I genuinely say this that if you said to me at the start of the competition before we even travelled to Serbia in the opening game ‘You have to win your last game at home and in Wales to make it to the play-off’ I would have taken it.”

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Source: FAI TV/YouTube

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