Football/Soccer

Martin O'Neill backs next generation to drive Republic of Ireland forward

The Republic of Ireland have been drawn alongside old foes Wales and Denmark in Group Four of League B in the Uefa Nations League. Picture by PA
Jim van Wijk

MARTIN O'Neill believes the Republic of Ireland's next generation will have the "drive and determination" to put themselves firmly on the road towards reaching Euro 2020.

O'Neill has finally put pen to paper on a contract extension with the Football Association of Ireland to remain as manager for the next qualifying campaign, after initially agreeing to do so in October 2017.

The 65-year-old had been the leading candidate to take over at Stoke, where Paul Lambert was eventually appointed as successor to Mark Hughes.

Speculation over O'Neill's position increased following the 5-1 aggregate World Cup play-off defeat by Denmark which ended hopes of reaching the 2018 finals in Russia.

O'Neill accepted he had taken time for "a bit of reflection", but was always content his understanding with FAI chief executive John Delaney allowed for him to talk to other potential employers.

Now, though, O'Neill remains very much focused on the job of bringing the best out of the emerging talent and to provide a change of the guard within the senior set-up.

"I am obviously pleased to do so [extend my contract]," O'Neill said on Sky Sports News.

"I had conversations with the FAI board. They wanted me to continue in the job and let's see how we progress."

O'Neill continued: "We have got a group of older players who have served the country absolutely brilliantly and we have a group of younger players trying to make their way at club level for a start, to establish themselves.

"One or two of them have a bit of experience now, not only with the qualifications for the (2016) Euros, but also the qualification and the disappointment of losing to Denmark in the play-offs for the World Cup.

"So I think all of those things taken into consideration, that the younger players should have that drive and determination now to try and do something.

"I am staying, I am with the Republic of Ireland and am delighted to be so."

The Republic of Ireland have been drawn into Group Four of League B in the Uefa Nations League, which will see fixtures against both Wales and the Danes.

O'Neill described the outcome as "deja vu", given how well they know both the rivals and that his squad would be looking to "avenge" their play-off loss.

First up is another away trip in Cardiff on September 6, before Denmark return to the scene of that play-off win when they travel to the Aviva Stadium on October 13.

The Irish are at home again three days later when they take on Wales again, before rounding off the group in Copenhagen against Denmark on November 19.

NATIONS CUP OFFERS ROUTE TO EUROS

DESIGNED to replace most international friendlies with competitive games, the Nations League also offers a possible route to Euro 2020 - with the play-offs for the tournament due to involve the 16 group winners.

If they have already qualified for Euro 2020 the next best-ranked team in their league will go into the play-offs. Each league has a path of its own, and will consist of two single-leg semi-finals and a one-off final. The winner of each path qualifies for Euro 2020.

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