- Paul Fennessy reports from the Aviva Stadium
IRELAND BOSS MARTIN O’Neill has played down suggestions that his job could be on the line as his team prepare for two crucial upcoming Nations League games against Denmark and Wales.
The 66-year-old coach has been criticised for perceived negative tactics of late, while respective 5-1 and 4-1 losses to Denmark and Wales in Ireland’s last two competitive games, as well as a period in between where O’Neill appeared to strongly contemplate leaving his post, have led some people to suspect his days in the job are numbered, particularly if the team lose the upcoming two matches.
When asked whether he feared for his job, the Derry native replied “not really,” explaining: “If you look at it, we’ve qualified for the Euros, a couple of years ago, I must admit. I think it was the best we ever did in the Euros. We were fourth seeds — we got to the play-offs and we’d lost one in 11 [competitive games] before that. So these two [last competitive] games apart, I don’t really fear [for my job]. There’s always pressure. There’s pressure on managers every single day of the week.
“I had a possibility of leaving to go to another job [at Stoke] and I thought I’d like to stay on and see if we can qualify for this competition. The Euros start in earnest in March time or so. We’ll see.”
O’Neill also said there was no update on the international future of promising West Ham starlet Declan Rice, while suggesting Shane Long’s ankle injury — which saw him sit out training at the Aviva Stadium today — was unlikely to prevent him from featuring in the upcoming games.
When asked about the likely absence of Denmark’s star man Christian Eriksen owing to a stomach injury, O’Neill pointed to his own side’s issues and in particular, the unavailability Everton defender Seamus Coleman, who the manager described as “world class”.
O’Neill also expressed satisfaction with the return to the squad of Cardiff player Harry Arter, noting the importance of having a Premier League regular in the team, after the midfielder made himself unavailable for the team’s previous two matches following a row with assistant boss Roy Keane.
I think [Harry is] absolutely fine. The two of them have been talking, they met up again last night. I probably believe that it should make Harry stronger for it all.
“If there’s criticism coming your way, take it in some sort of spirit and attempt to prove someone wrong if the criticism is levelled at you and if someone is praising you, then try to prove them right.
“In this case, I think Harry wants to do that — I think he wants to do it not just here, but that Bournemouth were wrong to let him leave or certainly go out this year on loan, so he’s got a bit to prove, which is great.
“I think players should always have something to prove, as we should as managers as well.”
On the upcoming games, the Ireland boss added: “We got beaten by Wales. Wales then got beaten by Denmark. It’s up to us on the night to try to win and put us back to level pegging again.
“We’d like to try to win the game. Any sort of feeling that you want to put some things right, I don’t see that being a bad thing.”
Having played a four-man defence in the opening Nations League fixture against Wales, O’Neill also hinted he may go with a 3-5-2 formation against the Danes on Saturday.
It’s something that we would certainly look at. We did it in Poland and it’s something that we would practise during the course of the week as well, particularly if young [Matt] Doherty is doing so well at this minute.
“If he is going to be involved in the game, then you’d want [Doherty] to be in a position where he is most comfortable.
“I’m not saying that I’m picking the whole side just to suit one player, but it’s certainly something we’re looking at.”
The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!