Michael O’Neill expects close game between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

Michael O'Neill feels both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are 'in transition'. Picture: SNS Group
Michael O'Neill feels both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are 'in transition'. Picture: SNS Group
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Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is expecting a close match between two sides “in a similar situation” in tonight’s high-profile friendly against the Republic of Ireland.

Both teams are in need of a win going into the match at the Aviva Stadium following frustration in the last 12 months.

Northern Ireland have won just two of their last 11 games, while Martin O’Neill’s Republic side have endured a similar stretch with one win in nine.

“Martin’s squad is in transition like ours,” Michael O’Neill said. “I think Shane Long not being available to them is a blow.

“But we’ll have to deal with players coming in with a real enthusiasm to play, players that want to prove themselves at international level. Much like our players as well.

“With that comes a threat, the eagerness to do well, the eagerness to take the opportunity is something we have to match,” added Michael O’Neill, pictured.

“They are an incredibly hard-working team, even in the results that have gone against them, it’s not been for a lack of endeavour and a lack of commitment or workrate. 
“It’s maybe been down to the quality of the opposition. Both teams are in a similar situation at the moment and we expect a tough game.”

Glenn Whelan will lead Republic of Ireland out tonight, knowing his 85th cap is likely to be his last while insisting he will never retire from international football.

The 34-year-old Aston Villa midfielder last pulled on a green shirt 12 months ago as a late substitute in Ireland’s 0-0 World Cup play-off draw in Denmark, with manager Martin O’Neill starting to turn to a new generation of players.

Sitting alongside O’Neill yesterday, Whelan said: “The manager has tried to bed new lads in and that’s the way Ireland are going.

“I’m more than happy with that – these lads have waited a long time and they need to get some caps under their belt.

“Looking at the next couple of years, hopefully we do qualify [for Euro 2020], but I’d be 36 or 37, so I think that’s way off.

“Retirement, as in putting it down on paper, I’d never do that. But I know tomorrow is probably going to be the last time I play for Ireland.

“But I’ve never picked when to come and play for Ireland and I’ll certainly never pick when I’m not going to play. The manager knows that, if anything ever happens, I’ll be available.”