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Martin O'Neill champing at the bit ahead of competitive opener

Updated: Wednesday, 03 Sep 2014 20:29 | Comments

Ireland take on Oman on Wednesday evening Martin O'Neill will have had to wait nine games and 10 months for his first competitive action as Ireland boss
Ireland take on Oman on Wednesday evening Martin O'Neill will have had to wait nine games and 10 months for his first competitive action as Ireland boss


Martin O'Neill is relishing the task of finally sending his Ireland team into battle in earnest for the first time.

Ireland will play the eighth game of the the 62-year-old's reign to date on Wednesday evening, a friendly against Oman in Dublin, before he takes charge of his first competitive fixture, Sunday's opening Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia in Tbilisi.

O'Neill has had to wait 10 months for the match to come around, but that has simply served to whet his appetite.

"It's been a long time,” O’Neill conceded. “It's something I've never been used to, to play a competitive game how many months, eight or nine after you joined up in November last year?

"Any job you have gone to at club level if you were only starting at pre-season, other than that you would be stepping into job and playing a competitive game within a couple of days.

"This is the first competitive game and we want to start as strongly as we possibly can, try to get some points on the board if it's at all possible, in a group that's going to be tight.

"I have said this before: the group is going to be very, very tight and I think four sides will be vying for that position."

"It's a long road ahead, but it's glorious place to end and that's where we want to go" - Martin O'Neill

O'Neill will use the Oman game to convince himself of a series of outstanding issues ahead of the trip to Georgia, principally the fitness of midfielders Darron Gibson and James McClean as they recover from long-term injuries.

Shay Given, who has returned to the fold at 38, could win a 126th senior cap with he and Rob Elliot likely to share the goalkeeping duties, while Gibson will start after 10 months on the sidelines with a cruciate ligament injury.

Asked if his team for Sunday is already picked in his head, O'Neill said: "I'd like to see how Darron performs, I'd like to see the fitness levels of a couple - James McClean, of course, hasn't played much.

"That's very much a case of a day-by-day thing. He has trained with us the last few days - he hasn't had any football since he had an injury a way back the 10th or 12th of July.

"Wigan are obviously concerned about him going in. We will see how [he] is today - he hasn't had much contact football. Again, those are the sort of things that we face, but we'll see how it goes."

However, while there may be still places up for grabs, O'Neill acknowledges that the bulk of his team is selected, and that those men who will be involved at the weekend, but not necessarily against the Omanis, are already focussing on what is required in Tbilisi.

He said: "This friendly game has come up at this moment to get a little bit of preparation in, but those boys who will not start the game, but who will be pretty well-assured of playing on Sunday, are already thinking about it.

"They are into it. We are into it, we are trying to get ready. It's a long road ahead, but it's glorious place to end and that's where we want to go, we want to try to get there."

Darron Gibson

O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane have put the players through their paces in Malahide this week with the former Manchester United man in particular in ebullient mood.

Keane, who is combining his role with a similar position at Aston Villa, raised smiles in England when a water bottle he had thrown in frustration hit club boss Paul Lambert, although O'Neill has - so far - been spared a similar fate.

The Ireland boss said with a smile: "He's growing that beard at this moment and he looks pretty fearsome."

Meanwhile, Thomas Schneider has been appointed as the new assistant coach of the Germany national team.

With Hans-Dieter Flick moving into a director of sport position the role had become vacant following Germany's World Cup win.

Schneider, whose only previous coaching experience in the Bundesliga lasted only a few months with Stuttgart last season, before he was replaced by Huub Stevens, has been selected by Joachim Low to be his right-hand man from October.

Watch highlights of Republic of Ireland v Oman on RTÉ Two and online (ROI only from 10.25pm on Wednesday 3 September.

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