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Hay: We'll play with no fear

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

All Whites coach Danny Hay could be forgiven for having a few nerves in his first outing in charge of the national team but he insists he and his players will take no sense of trepidation into their meeting with the Republic of Ireland tomorrow morning (NZT).

Hay and his squad have had only two training sessions in Dublin and have used much of that precious time to work on a bold approach with the ball, which is sure to excite All Whites fans as the first steps are taken on a journey Hay hopes will end with a berth at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

"We’ve spoken a lot to the players about trying to be a bit braver in possession, a bit more creative, a lot more attack-minded and not afraid to make mistakes," he says.

"We’re trying to take that anxiety or fear away from them so they can go and express themselves. It’s not going to be perfect because that’s never going to happen after two sessions but I think we’ll find out a lot about the players tomorrow and they’ll find out a lot about themselves. They’re in good spirits and there’s a really positive feeling amongst the group. We go into the fixture positive, happy and really looking forward to the challenge against what is a very good Irish side."

Aside from introducing tactical elements, Hay has used what little time he has had in Dublin to lay the foundations for a strong team culture, with a particular emphasis on what it means to be a New Zealander and the characteristics he wants his team to exhibit.

"That’s been excellent, the players have come in with an open mind and they’ve had an unbelievably positive attitude," he says.

"I think they’re excited about the direction we’re taking and it helps when you’ve got some really influential figures like Winston Reid and Chris Wood. Having those sorts of players in the environment, particularly for the young players, is massive. The level these players are playing at week-in, week-out means they hold a lot of mana and respect amongst the group. So having them influence what we’re doing and the direction we’re taking has been enormous, as well as just the players reconnecting with who we are as a country and trying to form that identity and some key traits around that."

The early stages of the Irish winter have so far not been kind with the trainings taking place amidst wet and windy conditions. But Hay says football fever is currently gripping Dublin with Mick McCarthy’s national team set to face Denmark in a crucial qualifier for the UEFA European Championships several days after taking on the All Whites.

"Ireland are a massive challenge, they’ve played a lot of football recently and they’ve got a lot of players operating at high levels so it’s going to be great for us," Hay says.

"We’ve done a huge amount of analysis around them and they’ve obviously got one eye on the game against Denmark. Like us, they’re going to introduce some younger players and give them an opportunity, which I think will make for an entertaining game. You’ll have a group of players who are really trying to prove a point so they’ll be considered for that game against the Danish. Our players know it’s a tough challenge, we don’t often get to play against top opposition and they’re travelling very well at the moment so it’s something to really look forward to and cherish."

Whatever the result, history will be made at Aviva Stadium as New Zealand have never faced the Republic of Ireland in a football international before but the outcome of the match is of little relevance to Hay.

"I’m putting the results to one side at this stage, it’s not something I’m focusing on at all. This is all about starting to prepare for 2022 and it’s the first chance for the players to get an opportunity to play together," he says.

"We want to come away from this window having a really good idea of the character and mentality of the players and understanding if they’re invested in the direction we’re going in. If we can also get some answers around whether they can play the way we’re asking them to then that’s going to make these matches hugely successful."

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