RICHARD DUNNE'S chances of being involved in next month's World Cup qualifiers are fading after Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert admitted he is unsure if the Dubliner will play again this season.
Giovanni Trapattoni is keen to have his key defender back for the March 22 encounter with Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden in Stockholm, but it looks likely that he will have to plan without the Tallaght man.
Dunne has spent the entire season on the sidelines with a recurring groin problem that has flared up just when he has raised the intensity of his training.
There were earlier suggestions that he is four weeks away from fitness, which would cast serious doubt on his Irish prospects, but Lambert has failed to even put a time frame on his comeback.
"At the moment, Richard is still doing his rehab," he said yesterday. "But he is not back to square one.
"Whether he plays again this season is something that we will have to see over the next few weeks. But the season is getting shorter all the time."
Trapattoni's troubled defensive situation has improved over the last week, with Marc Wilson and Sean St Ledger stepping up their recovery from setbacks and back in the first-team picture at Stoke City and Leicester City respectively.
Meanwhile, former Irish international Damien Duff has agreed a one-year contract extension at Fulham. The 33-year-old has been in good form this season and is happy to have tied down his future.
"I've loved my time since I joined the club more than three years ago, so I'm really happy that I'm going to stay for a further year," he said.
"I will always give 100pc for the chairman and club and I look forward to another season playing at Craven Cottage, which really is a special ground."
Elsewhere, Arsene Wenger has insisted that he had not considered walking away from Arsenal for "one second" – even though he is going to leave it later than ever before deciding his future.
Wenger said his desire to see out his contract, which expires at the end of next season, and his self-belief were undiminished by arguably the biggest crisis of his 16 years at the club.
Four days after reacting angrily to suggestions that he was negotiating a new deal, the Frenchman admitted he was operating on a "short-term plan" and would not decide until next year whether to carry on.
Wenger has been under pressure from supporters to step down, but he retains the backing of the club.