Monday 26 September 2016

Daniel McDonnell: Stokes leaves it too late as Euros squad takes shape

Published 23/05/2016 | 02:30

Anthony Stokes of Hibernian lifts the silverware following the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers at Hampden Park. Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty
Anthony Stokes of Hibernian lifts the silverware following the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers at Hampden Park. Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty

Martin O'Neill will today provide an Irish squad update after a weekend where players filtered into the team's Castleknock base to start the build-up to the European Championships.

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There were indications that the FAI would deliver a bulletin on Saturday, but that was pushed back to yesterday and then onto this morning amid suggestions that O'Neill wanted to explain his thinking in tandem with publicly releasing a list reduced from 35 to in or around the 30 mark ahead of Friday's friendly with Holland.

O'Neill was in phone contact with players last week and the complication is that a small group on the cut line are unable to report for service because of their play-off commitments with David Meyler (Hull), Keiren Westwood and Aiden McGeady (Sheffield Wednesday) and David Forde (Millwall) required by their employers.

McGeady and Forde are unlikely to feature at Wembley unless their managers have a change in heart, yet they are still firmly in O'Neill's thoughts. The former is certain to travel while Forde could travel ahead of Westwood as third keeper if Shay Given can illustrate his well-being in training this week as support for Darren Randolph.

Debate

The fitness of Marc Wilson and Daryl Murphy are factors that the Derry man will have to take into consideration as he looks to make decisions in defence and attack while Harry Arter needs to use the Dutch game to push himself into the midfield debate.

Ten years ago, hypothetical musings of who might have been involved in the Irish squad of 2016 would have featured the confident prediction of a central role for Anthony Stokes. At 27, the Dubliner should be in the prime of his career, but his omission from the 35-man long list passed by without a single question about his absence being put to O'Neill. In other words, it was no surprise.

On Saturday, Stokes provided a frustrating reminder of what he can do with an inspirational role in Hibs' Scottish Cup success over Rangers, with his brace helping the Championship side to a 3-2 win that ended an 114-year wait for the trophy.

Stokes joined Hibs on loan after falling badly out of favour with Celtic boss Ronny Deila and the league campaign didn't go to plan as they missed their promotion target. He scored five times in 14 league outings for the Edinburgh side and his future is up in the air.

His next move will determine if he ever gets back into the international picture. Another season in the Scottish second tier would do little for his Irish hopes.

Roy Keane did go to watch him at that level, but O'Neill highlighted his concerns about the former Arsenal youth when he came up in March.

"Anthony won't mind me saying 'Anthony is Anthony'. he's a talented player and I would say that possibly he's one of the three laziest players I have ever seen," he said.

"Lazily talented or talented lazily. I'm never sure which way it goes."

Robbie Brady was the big hope of the next wave of players and he is assured of his place in O'Neill's plans. The only question surrounds his starting position. Kevin Kilbane believes Brady and Stephen Ward could share left-back duties.

"I've seen Stephen play a few times this season for Burnley and I think he's playing to position more now," said Kilbane.

"He's looking a lot more comfortable supporting from behind, which Martin might want in certain games.

"If we have to go and get at sides, where Martin has spoken about full-backs getting into games and being our wide men, it might be a case of Robbie Brady coming in there."

Sweden

It was a good weekend for midfielder Pontus Wernbloom after a tense Russian title race ended in success for his CSKA Moscow side.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will have someone to share medal-winning stories with and added another to his collection by scoring twice as PSG claimed the French Cup in a 4-2 win over Marseille. It completed Ibra’s goodbye tour after his emotional league goodbye last week.

Meanwhile, coach Erik Hamren remains concerned over the well-being of Hamburg’s Albin Ekdal, who is still recovering from a glass cut he sustained in a nightclub.

Belgium

Marc Wilmots named a 24-man squad for the tournament, but a groin injury suffered by Brugge defender Bjorn Engels made the final decision for the coach. He has been put on a rehab programme and might come back into contention if he heals well and another player suffers misfortune.

The Belgian side met up over the weekend and their first ‘team bonding’ outing was to go on a bike ride, which various members of the panel captured on social media. Wilmots has a slight worry over Galatasaray defender Jason Denayer, who is a doubt for the Turkish Cup final with a hip problem.

Italy

 Andrea Pirlo is refusing to give up hope, so the New York City midfielder will be hoping that Antonio Conte was otherwise engaged on Saturday night. Pirlo’s side were turned over 7-0 at home by New York Red Bulls in a humiliating local derby.

It was a rough experience for his manager, Patrick Vieira, and team-mates Frank Lampard and David Villa – but Pirlo is the only one with something to prove at the moment and he admitted moving to America has damaged his hopes.

Brazilian-born Napoli midfielder Jorginho reportedly impressed in Conte’s preliminary training camp this week. He only has one cap.

Irish Independent

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