Tuesday 27 September 2016

Break from gloom for Clark as Irish Canaries set to fall from grace

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:30

Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan. Photo: Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan. Photo: Stephen Pond/Getty Images

According to the FAI, Martin O'Neill's squad announcement on Thursday will be the provisional selection for the friendly with Holland at the Aviva on May 27.

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The real significance is that it will be the first draft of his squad for the European Championships.

Granted, O'Neill has a tendency to name huge panels that will be cut down closer to the time, but he may have to moderate those numbers given the timing. There's little to be gained from stringing fringe squad members along when they know they have little chance of making the final 23 and, in some cases, will be reporting back from pre-season when the knockout stages of Euros are still going on.

The real agonising decisions for O'Neill will come in the hours after the Dutch game when he finalises his French selection but his diplomatic challenge starts this week.

A GOOD WEEKEND FOR...

It says a lot about the state of affairs at Aston Villa that a scoreless draw at home to Newcastle is considered a good afternoon's work. Still, the hope from an Irish perspective is that Ciaran Clark will have drawn some confidence from the experience.

He was praised for a spirited contribution on Saturday in a defence that also included young Meathman Kevin Toner and, while Clark has made some mistakes this season - particularly in the early stages of Remi Garde's reign - there is a feeling that the 26-year-old could have played more games. Joleon Lescott hardly excelled himself.

Clark did well in March and looks to be part of a three-man battle with John O'Shea and Richard Keogh for the two centre-half spots. Marc Wilson might have been another contender but he is in anxious territory after Mark Hughes confirmed that his season was over with his injured knee continuing to flare up. With a full season under his belt, Wilson's versatility would make him a banker to be on board. He's extremely vulnerable now.

On the flip side, Stephen Ward was part of the Burnley team that lifted the Championship trophy on Saturday and he's ideally placed to travel along with Robbie Brady to cover the left-back department.

Meanwhile, Shane Long was again in terrific form for Southampton against Spurs and it's a good omen that he gave Belgian pair Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen an abundance of problems.

A BAD WEEKEND FOR. . .

It looks like game over for Norwich barring an unlikely series of results in the final week of the Premier League season.

Robbie Brady struggled to make an impression and was replaced just after half-time against his former club Manchester United.

Wes Hoolahan was busy, but the Canaries were crying out for a quality striker able to run in behind opposition defences and find gaps. If they had a Jermain Defoe or even a Shane Long, the story of their season might have taken a different path.

Given the importance of the creative duo to Ireland's plans, the disappointment of falling through the trap door is not a good warm-up for the summer's festivities. The Wolves contingent suffered that fate before 2012 and Stephen Ward admitted during the week that the hangover affected him.

Brady is at the stage where he needs top-flight football and considering he joined Norwich just 12 months ago, he may find it hard to secure another switch.

Jeff Hendrick, the other home-produced young gun in the Ireland squad, is back fit ahead of the play-offs - the 23-year-old duo need to be engaged at the highest level for the sake of Ireland's future.

OUTSIDE CONTENDERS

Roy Keane watched Scott Hogan score another brace for Brentford but the front man, who has just returned from a long injury absence, has been non-committal about formally declaring for Ireland so he's very much an option for way down the road. Again, it's Darron Gibson and David McGoldrick that spring to mind in this category.

Gibson may feel his decision not to go out on loan from Everton has been vindicated by first-team involvement recently, although his concession of a penalty just after he came off the bench at Leicester indicated that he's a little rusty.

McGoldrick scored from the spot for Ipswich as they claimed three points away to a Derby side with one eye on the play-offs. He was also on target against MK Dons last week.

"I'm not 100pc yet but I'm getting there slowly," he said. "I don't know when the Ireland squad gets picked but I'm going to try and stay fit until I find out so hopefully I'll be in it."

Irish Independent

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