INTERNATIONAL: Small details key to big World Cup result for manager O’Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Pic by Presseye Ltd.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Pic by Presseye Ltd.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill considers special focus on the small points a path towards a big World Cup qualifying result in Azerbaijan this weekend.

O’Neill and his squad have spent this week at a training camp in Turkey designed to help acclimatise to weather conditions for Saturday’s Group C clash in Baku, with temperatures expected to reach 31 degrees on the day.

“The week has gone really well,” said the international boss. “We arrived here on Saturday night after a good, direct four-and-a-half hour flight from Belfast.

“We did a little recovery on Sunday and we trained Monday and Tuesday with shorter sessions, we have a wonderful training camp and pitch on site. The purpose of why we are here is to acclimatise and limit the travel.

“We have been training in the heat and at kick-off time in Baku, it has been warm though not sunny and good preparation for the players.

“It’s something we need to be mindful of how we set up the team, the physical nature of the game could be the most determining factor than anything else in the game.”

O’Neill’s attention to detail has extended to a special training programme for talisman defender Gareth McAuley to help the experienced centre-back’s recovery from injury.

“Gareth is fine, we have tailored his training, he hasn’t done all the sessions, which is right because we have to manage him and be mindful of the season he has had,” said O’Neill. “The opposition are extremely wary of his threat from set-pieces.

“That partnership he has with Jonny (Evans), or if we play with three at the back, is vital for us and it’s where the strongest part of our team arguably is.

“We will never say we couldn’t do without him, he is certainly a player we need available and fit.

“He has shown what a big player he is for us.”