TODAY SIGNALS THE beginning of a new era in Irish football.
After he is officially unveiled at Dublin’s Gibson Hotel at 1pm this afternoon, Martin O’Neill will take training at Malahide’s Gannon Park for the first time on Monday and has just four days to get to know his new squad before facing Latvia at the Aviva Stadium on Friday.
He may have a wealth of experience from his time in charge of Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland among others, but the international stage is uncharted waters for the 61-year-old in a management capacity.
There are still several months before the next competitive fixture but O’Neill will want to make maximum use of his first week with the squad.
1. Introducing himself
While he will already have struck up relationships with several of the current squad either as their manager or an opponent, O’Neill will meet with the whole group to lay out his plans for the upcoming campaign.
He is well-recognised as a gifted motivator and, with some having possibly grown disillusioned by Giovanni Trapattoni’s methods, it will be vital to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction and the atmosphere is a positive one from the outset.
2. Clear up any disputes or bad blood
In the same way that John Delaney and Roy Keane have seemingly put aside their differences, any players still holding grudges over what may have been said in the past also need to “draw a line in the sand” and look ahead to the future.
O’Neill’s role will be to make it clear in no uncertain terms that the slate has been wiped clean as his pool of players isn’t huge so having everyone to choose from is essential.
3. Identify areas which need to be worked on
O’Neill’s management style at his previous jobs often saw him take a back seat when it came to day-to-day coaching. However, for next week at least, he will be fully active on the training ground as discussions with Delaney on the subject of a backroom team wishlist are only due to be held later today.
The simple things such as defending and attacking set-pieces, the formation he intends to use and how and when he wants the team to press the opposition should be nailed down in the first couple of sessions.
4. Try out systems
Ranked 117th in the world, O’Neill will face sterner tests than European minnows Latvia in the coming months but, that said, he will no doubt be desperate to make a good first impression in front of home fans eager for reasons to be optimistic.
They are likely to have enough to defeat Friday’s opponents whether he chooses 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 but he won’t have many occasions to test out possible formations so should make the most of this match.
5. See as many of the players playing as possible
Outgoing caretaker boss Noel King picked the 27 men who will show up in Dublin tomorrow and meticulous thinker O’Neill now has to run the rule over the current crop and weigh up how he can possibly freshen the squad up.
One thing is for sure – the new man must take the chance to watch all the players at his disposal in order to get a decent idea of how he plans to fill each position.
Assistant manager Roy Keane is already out on a scouting mission today and is scheduled to take in a couple of games across the water this weekend.
6. Pick a number one
With a new manager in place, the debate over who should hold the number one jersey could potentially resurface.
Since being installed as first choice by Giovanni Trapattoni, Millwall’s Galway-born stopper David Forde has done little wrong and put in a heroic display in the 3-0 defeat at the hands of Germany.
However, Keiren Westwood worked under O’Neill at Sunderland and it will be interesting to see who he gives the nod to given his history with the Black Cats keeper.
7. Make a decision on the captaincy
Robbie Keane yet again showed how important his knack for goalscoring is to this team in the last campaign, bringing his international tally to 61 and earning his 130th cap against Kazakhstan.
If the incoming management team do see him as the first striker on the team sheet, that may not necessarily mean that his status as captain is ensured and someone like John O’Shea could potentially step up to the plate — as he has done at club level — if called upon.
Either way, the situation should be clarified and put to bed as soon as possible.
8. Get off to a winning start
There’s always a honeymoon period but how long it lasts depends on how successful Ireland can be on the pitch in the first couple of games.
The selection of O’Neill and Keane has certainly caught the imagination of many Ireland supporters and two wins from two over the next 10 days would secure a reasonable amount of optimism heading into 2014.
The road to the European Championships in three years’ time begins with February’s draw for the qualifiers.