Martin O'Neill demands Ireland players prove themselves

Ireland manager has admitted that he will not cap Irish-eligible players for the sake of it - preferring his panel to prove themselves on the pitch
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has admitted that he will not bring players into the Irish international set-up unless they can add something to the squad, insisting that he will not 'give caps out willy-nilly'.

The Derryman expressed his feelings on his initial taste of international management at an end-of-year press conference at the Carlton Hotel in Blanchardstown - telling reporters about the differences from club management. "It was really strange because you say cheerio to the players, and then I don’t see them collectively until March. I felt that was really strange. It didn’t really hit home for a day or two," said O’Neill.

Since O'Neill took over as manager, a number of Irish eligible footballers playing in England have been linked with call-ups to the Ireland squad, but O’Neill outlined his hesitancy at awarding international caps - preferring that players work hard and earn the right to play for their country. "I want players to prove themselves and don’t want to give caps out willy-nilly," O'Neill admitted.

O’Neill also spoke of the overriding frustration in being uncertain if the player he is traveling to watch will actually feature in a game. This was the case when he travelled to Norwich’s Carrow Road in the hope of seeing Wes Hoolohan in action last weekend.

However O’Neill insisted that he would never interfere with club managers, explaining that he had been on the other end of some disputes during his tenure in club management. "You’re hoping that Hoolohan might get on at some stage or might start the game but that is totally the manager’s prerogative," said O’Neill. "I would never ask the manager beforehand. As a club manager, I wouldn’t want a manager to ask me about my team."

Whereas predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni often encouraged players to move if they were not getting games at club level, O'Neill will not follow suit. "There was nothing that irritated me more as a club manager than to find out that a couple of my players who I had fallen out with were playing international football and the international manager said that they should move," O'Neill said. "I do not want to be running around telling Wes Hoolohan he should do this or that."

The Ireland manager also explained that he did not feel the need to get in contact with all of his squad members over the winter break, but will go to watch some of them in action. "I’m not going to make a habit of talking to the players all the time,” said O’Neill. "They have heavy club commitments at this time. Just let them get them out of the way." 

With the format of the European Championships changing to accommodate more teams in 2016, many Republic of Ireland supporters think their team has a significant chance of qualifying, but O'Neill doesn't believe it will be that simple. "It’s nice to hear that some people have said that we’ve already qualified," O'Neill joked. "It means that I can put my feet up and not worry about it.”

Having served as a coaching assistant to O’Neill at club level, John Robertson may be a potential addition to the national setup in the new year, with the 61-year-old keen to add Robertson to the backroom. "I’m seeing John this evening at some stage and I am going to put a few things across to him, and him likewise to me." 

O'Neill will find out his Euro 2016 qualifying opponents at the draw on February 23, while the Republic of Ireland’s first fixture of the new year takes place in the Aviva Stadium on March 5 when the Boys in Green meet Serbia.