Euro 2016 kicks off this evening for players, fans, media and the hosts, yet it would appear that Martin O’Neill must wait until the first ball is kicked in anger in Monday’s opener with Sweden at the Stade de France for his own journey to really begin.
The Green Army have been mobilised since the dates and destinations were confirmed back in December, while the players battled through a trial week of sorts back in Dublin before the squad was confirmed and now, they too have switched into full tournament mode.
On Thursday, the town of Versailles got their first taste of this most magnificent tournament as they enjoyed an open day at the Stade de Montbauron getting acquainted with their June guests, watching the Ireland team train in glorious early summer sunshine.
A manager, however, lives and dies by his results, and O’Neill has probably been playing this opening fixture out in his mind for the past six months; shaping structures, sorting systems.
So O’Neill will have nothing concrete to evaluate until that final whistle is blown just before eight o’clock local time on Monday night.
Of course, the change of scenery has helped, and a smile almost broke out as the manager lauded the opulent surrounding of the Trianon Palace, the facilities at the municipal stadium and, of course, the pitch.
Injury queries and concerns are another factor that help the manager get through these painful pre-tournament media briefings, but on that note, perhaps O’Neill would be happy if the opening clash was put off for just a few more days.
Because time is running out for one of O’Neill’s prize horses, with talismanic forward Jonathan Walters (below) only able to complete the most basic of training routines, in solitary confinement behind the goals at the stadium, as the squad went at full tilt in this morning’s practice match.
And whether the other daily distractions are intentional deflection tactics,they are becoming a sideshow to Ireland’s preparations for Monday’s match.
The day’s topic for discussion; the small print, or perhaps lack of, of O’Neill’s contract commitment for the next two years.
The FAI released the news that the manager had pledged his allegiance to the Ireland team until the next World Cup on the day before ‘le grand depart’ to France.
And while the finality didn’t appear to be in doubt, the timing raised eyebrows and caused some unnecessary assumptions that the manager was busy negotiating, while also finalising preparations for the tournament.
A handshake, it would appear, is all that took place between FAI chief executive John Delaney and O’Neill.
“We have shaken hands and that’s good enough. I think John wanted to do that (announcing just ahead of departure to France) and I’m pleased to follow suit,” said O’Neill.
Simple and straightforward; perhaps that is good enough for O’Neill, but clarity will be called for at the next meeting of manager and media minds, who will be looking for more details of this gentleman’s agreement.
O’Neill could of course, sit back and enjoy the fast-paced training match that took place in the Versailles sunshine this morning, presided over by Referee Roy (below), his baseball cap and now customary football socks pulled right up to the knees.
Chief overseer Keane, as you could imagine, let the game flow and was never going to blow for anything that resembled over-exuberance, while also maintaining his qualified role as chief critic.
The lively James McClean picked up the ball on the left and whipped in an exquisite cross that zipped across the front of goal, right through that mythical corridor of uncertainty.
“Great cross, James. All day, keep doing that all day," barked Roy to McClean.
Keane praising players won’t attract the same headlines as his scathing comments did last week, but the West Brom midfielder will have heard and will have appreciated.
Close to a thousand local youths turned up to cheer on the Irish with their own take on a modern classic. “Allez les Vertes” echoed around the ground for the hour-long event.
But the open nature of the training session was equalised by the noticeably increased security patrolling the perimeter – the openly displayed machine guns are becoming quite the norm in these parts.
Meanwhile, outside on the quiet and quaint tree-lined streets of Versailles, life moved slowly by with little sign that there is a major football tournament about to commence – apart from the odd “Bienvenue a La Republiqued’Irlande” poster adorning some shop fronts.
Perhaps the Ireland manager will get a chance to enjoy a leisurely stroll about this historic old town on Tuesday, once his tournament has begun in earnest.
Result pending, of course.