Euro Watch: Daniel McDonnell looks at Ireland's winners and losers following the weekend action
Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30
At this stage of the Euro 2016 preparation, every weekend matters for Martin O'Neill. Small injuries start to become significant. Rests for his established players are no longer that much of a nuisance. No news becomes good news.
He would ideally want signs that his leading players are in good fettle, but spells on the sidelines for key men such as Seamus Coleman, Jon Walters and Jeff Hendrick - to name just three - have brought home the reality of what's really important at this juncture.
Premier League-wise, just four Irishmen figured in a curtailed programme and that included Aston Villa debutant Kevin Toner, a teenager from Meath. Three were involved in the FA Cup semi-finals and the only one to enjoy a happy ending, victorious Crystal Palace skipper Damien Delaney, is in exile.
Still, there was enough activity across the weekend to provide the Ireland manager with some food for thought.
A GOOD WEEKEND FOR. . .
Shane Long looks to be in the form of his life. His goal at Villa was his ninth in the league this season, which makes it his best ever top-flight campaign.
Granted, he can still be guilty of profligacy and apologised afterwards for not having scored more but he was won over Ronald Koeman by raising his overall game.
Saturday was his 20th league start of the season. Last term, he was got just 16 starts, and hit the target on five occasions.
"I never complain to a player who is working hard and doing everything," said the Dutchman. "It's part of the job to miss chances. He was positive because he is working hard and creating a lot of problems."
Long can strike fear into the hearts of defenders because of his relentless approach. An uncertain period at club level and some indifferent international performances contributed to his impact sub role for the main part of the Euros race.
It will be very hard for O'Neill to leave him out if he brings this confidence into the summer.
His pal Kevin Doyle will also be in good spirits after making his Colorado Rapids return at the weekend less than a month after his horror Aviva Stadium injury and marking the comeback with a fine goal against Seattle.
A BAD WEEKEND FOR. . .
Shay Given's run of luck came to an abrupt end at the Etihad Stadium. Devastating setbacks for Jack Butland at Stoke and his Ireland colleague Rob Elliot put the veteran back in the Euros shake-up and Mark Hughes stuck with the 40-year-old for the second game on the trot by picking him at Manchester City.
Alas, he injured his groin in the first half and, while the prognosis is a week to ten days on the sidelines, it does raise questions about his durability off the back of a long lay-off.
He is the leading candidate to act as back-up to Darren Randolph but O'Neill needs to be certain that his cover options are in prime physical condition if disaster strikes.
Given has a bit to prove in this regard and this could bring Keiren Westwood back into contention - although frequent unavailability has harmed the Sheffield Wednesday man.
David Forde remains inactive at Millwall while the other realistic contender, Charlton's Stephen Henderson, is also struggling with his fitness.
It's probably no bad thing that Randolph is out of the firing line at West Ham.
In November 2014, Darron Gibson and David McGoldrick were firmly in O'Neill's plans. Gibson was selected for the qualifying defeat in Glasgow while McGoldrick made his debut in the friendly with USA four days later.
Gibson hasn't played for Ireland in the intervening period; McGoldrick lined out for 45 minutes against England and then disappeared from the radar.
Injuries have halted the careers of both players, with Gibson's decision to stay at Everton instead of going out on loan not helping his case with O'Neill.
Injury to Gareth Barry has given the Derry man a run in the side at Everton and he did okay at Wembley given his lack of match sharpness; he would likely be in the 23 with a full season under his belt but he's still an outside candidate after missing last month's double header.
McGoldrick played the full 90 for Ipswich in their draw at Middlesbrough and Mick McCarthy suggested that he could have a shot as he is held in high regard by the Irish camp. "They do like him and with that kind of performance he will be fit to travel and play if needed," he said.