After nine months of waiting, today marks the birth of a new cycle for Martin O‘Neill‘s Ireland.

That‘s the hope anyway, with the squad announcement for the forthcoming double header with Wales and Poland marking a return to business.

Ten days from now, Ireland will be in Cardiff for the first meaningful match since the World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark last November.

The UEFA Nations League will take a bit of selling, but the results do matter both in terms of making Euro 2020 qualification easier and moving beyond the World Cup disappointment.

O‘Neill and the FAI are taking steps to approach the autumn with a clean slate.

Over the past fortnight, Abbotstown officials have arranged a series of one on one interviews with the Ireland manager with newspapers given the first crack and radio stations also getting an audience.



This has allowed O‘Neill to deal with a range of issues in a more relaxed environment than the terse atmosphere that hung in the air following the Danish defeat and the job offer from Stoke that placed his Irish future in doubt.

On Saturday, the Irish Mirror reported O‘Neill‘s confirmation that his assistant Roy Keane had been involved in training ground ‘altercations‘ with Harry Arter and Jonathan Walters around the summer friendlies with France and USA.

“The situation has definitely been defused and it‘s just part of things,” he said, without delving into further detail.

The Irish Independent understands that the disagreement between Keane and Walters arose from a comment by the assistant manager about players with knocks sitting out a training session ahead of the game with France.

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The experienced striker took exception to the Corkman‘s comment and the altercation stemmed from there. It was cleared up and Walters – who has struggled with injuries over the past two years – went on to play in both matches. Arter was a sub for the end of season encounters.

Rows happen on training grounds all the time and they always seem to matter more when a team is at a low ebb. The Manchester City documentary has showcased Pep Guardiola‘s manic presence around a group which would naturally lend itself to the odd tiff but it‘s deemed irrelevant when a side is winning trophies.

But when a team is enduring a hangover from the pain of missing out on a World Cup, it‘s a different type of story.

When O‘Neill brought Keane in as his number two, the fear was that he would be a combustible presence given the colourful dressing room stories from his time at Sunderland and Ipswich.

However, there have been no tales of tactics boards receiving karate kicks, even though there will always be an edge to any dressing room with Keane in it.

Ironically enough, one potential issue when he came in was a history with Walters dating back to the fraught end of their time together at Ipswich but they had patched that up to form a strong relationship through the Euro 2016 campaign.

O‘Neill alluded to that over the weekend and, if this really was a major problem, the suspicion is that he would have kept schtum on the entire topic.

Still, this is the start of a third campaign for a management team and that old line about familiarity breeding contempt can be relevant in a football context too.

Ireland could have been preparing for a World Cup in the summer and instead found themselves out of the limelight playing friendlies. Without a real focus, it‘s the kind of gathering where frustrations can rise and crankiness kicks in.

O‘Neill‘s main line out of his media briefings has been his desire to approach the autumn with a positive outlook, although the challenges facing management become clear with every weekend that passes by with a limited Irish contribution to Premier League talking points.

As it happens, Keane was at Huddersfield on Saturday to watch Arter play for his new club Cardiff, who already seem booked for a relegation fight.

Walters is out of the picture at Burnley and would benefit from a loan move before the EFL window closes later in the week.

Shane Long and Ciaran Clark are back involved and Jeff Hendrick did get on the scoresheet for Burnley yet these are small crumbs of comfort. And it drums home the point that O‘Neill is likely to be relying on the same core of players again.

The easiest way to portray an image of freshness is with an injection of energy to the group but it‘s been a subdued enough start to the club campaign for the likely candidates, particularly in attacking areas.

Sean Maguire is injured and Preston are struggling. Conor Hourihane, who had targeted the Euro 2020 tilt as the chance to establish himself, is on the bench at Aston Villa. Alan Judge‘s late winner against the USA was a heartwarming story but he‘s yet to start a league match for Brentford this term. Declan Rice‘s Irish status should finally be confirmed today, but even the West Ham youngster is experiencing some growing pains.

Maybe a proper international match will be the catalyst to jolt players into life. Positive results are the only guaranteed way to bring the good vibes back.

Irish Independent