countdown to ireland kick-off - 28 days to go
Published 16/05/2016 | 02:30
MARTIN O'NEILL wanted to see Harry Arter play for Bournemouth against Manchester United yesterday, and will be glad that the game has been rescheduled for tomorrow.
The initial plan in the aftermath of the dramatic Old Trafford cancellation appeared to be staging the match in the days after the FA Cup final.
That would have resulted in Arter reporting late for the game with Holland at the Aviva Stadium on Friday, May 27 - the squad meet up next weekend.
O'Neill is very keen for the talented midfielder to play in that fixture as he is due to finalise his squad the following day and it's a positive that he will be around to take a full part in the preparations.
A GOOD WEEKEND FOR. . .
The most interesting fixture from an Irish perspective was at the Britannia Stadium where Shay Given came back into the Stoke side again for the visit of Darren Randolph's West Ham.
It was a big day for the Donegal veteran and he passed a stern test as West Ham piled on the pressure in the second half.
He made one notable save in a busy afternoon which tested his well-being and, while Randolph is first choice, a fit Given can reasonably expect to travel as his back-up option.
The popular David Forde might still go as a third choice with Keiren Westwood the other player in the equation. Westwood is unlikely to be around before the squad is named as Sheffield Wednesday will be engaged in the play-off final if they survive tonight's second leg with a depleted Brighton - the Owls hold a two-goal advantage.
If Wednesday make it to Wembley, and Given joins Randolph and Forde in Dublin next week, then it's possible that we may not see Westwood at all this summer.
Given was helped out by Glenn Whelan, who made a pair of goalline clearances to finish off a solid season. Jonathan Walters played the full 90.
James McCarthy offered a glimpse of what could be in the locker as he scored for Everton in their comfortable dismissal of Norwich. The quality of the 25-year-old's strike from outside the box would make one wonder why it was just his second of the season and his fifth in Everton colours.
The caretaker management decided against risking Seamus Coleman's hamstring, and minding the full-back will be to the forefront of O'Neill's thoughts too.
Shane Long impressed again to end up as the highest placed Irishman in the final table as Southampton secured sixth spot and a place in the Europa League.
A BAD WEEKEND FOR. . .
Derby have become the masters of disappointment. Richard Keogh, Jeff Hendrick and Cyrus Christie might have to think about a change of scenery if they want to reach the Premier League as the Rams seem attracted by the self-destruct button when they reach the home straight.
They lost 3-0 at home to Hull and require a miraculous turnaround in the second leg. Keogh and Christie started while Hendrick was an unused sub after his spell on the sidelines.
Keogh and Hendrick were part of the 2014 side which lost the final to QPR (after a howler from Keogh) and they might well put themselves in the shop window if they perform well at the Euros.
David Meyler was absent from the victorious Hull side.
Keogh is vying with Ciaran Clark and John O'Shea for a place at the finals, and the latter didn't have a great afternoon in Sunderland's 2-2 draw with Watford as he gave away a penalty.
Sam Allardyce has hinted that O'Shea's role next season at Sunderland might be broadened out to involve mentoring younger members of the squad, with the Black Cats boss tipping the Waterford man as a future Ireland boss.
His playing commitments could be reduced as he moves into the next phase of his career, but he will expect a full role next month.
Clark missed Aston Villa's loss at Arsenal with an ankle issue - Meath youngster Kevin Toner made another appearance - and that's another worry for O'Neill to contend with as the tournament draws closer.
Marc Wilson started the campaign as first choice next to O'Shea but he could miss out if his knee doesn't improve.
Shane Duffy was well down the list when Ireland qualified but a strong run of matches with Blackburn and a solid showing in the March win over Switzerland has put him in a position where he is arguably next in line.
It was also a bad weekend for Darron Gibson who was pushed to the side by David Unsworth as four academy graduates were brought into Everton's match-day squad.
Gibson badly needs matches to further his case and it's difficult to see him making the cut at this juncture.
Aiden McGeady pleased O'Neill by going out on loan but he's another player with a question mark hanging over his health. He didn't feature for Wednesday in the first leg of the Brighton encounter and has struggled to make an impression with the Championship promotion chasers.