Daniel McDonnell: Coleman and McCarthy setbacks on the verge of becoming real concerns
Published 18/01/2016 | 02:30
In the course of their lengthy flirtation with becoming a good side, Everton have offered hope to Irish football.
As Euro 2016 draws closer, they are morphing into a cause for concern.
When the strength of Martin O'Neill's squad is assessed, the absence of players on the books of the traditional forces is a glaring negative and strong representation in a capable Everton group had provided consolation.
Roberto Martinez's dressing room houses Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy, arguably the two Irish players with the most potential to graduate to Champions League level, in addition to the talented if enigmatic Darron Gibson and Aiden McGeady.
However, in the last week, the Toffees have entered important games with Manchester City and Chelsea without a single Irishman figuring in their squad, a reflection of how updates from Everton have brought more bad news than good this term.
With Gibson and McGeady, the situation is relatively straightforward and readers are probably sick of updates on their reduced standing.
The Everton boss has a reputation for speaking in relentlessly positive terms about players that are completely out of favour and from October through to December, the weekly message from Martinez was consistent: they were working hard in training and a big part of his plans.
The Spaniard would make the ideal travelling companion for a turbulent plane journey seeing as the glass-half-full approach is his default setting. You'd still keep the seat belt on, though.
Unsurprisingly, his tone has changed considerably since the re-opening of the transfer window; the out-of-favour duo will be allowed to leave on-loan in order to aid their Euros prospects. (The insistence that they come back into contention at Everton this summer must be treated with due caution.)
With Coleman and McCarthy, it's different. When fit, they are vital cogs in the Everton wheel but they are sidelined at the moment and not for the first time this season either.
McCarthy has made just one outing since November, an aborted Christmas comeback against Newcastle which exacerbated a problem with his hip, and it's unclear when he will return.
Coleman damaged his calf in the League Cup tie with Manchester City and should be back inside the next fortnight.Weakness in his hamstring hung over the autumn, and curtailed his involvement in the regular stage of qualifying for France.
In the early phase of that journey, relations between the Everton and Irish camp appeared to be strained with barbed comments from Roy Keane about the frequency with which the Merseyside contingent turned up with doubts over their participation.
"You always get the impression from Everton that Seamus and James are both barely able to walk," he said. "So when they actually turn up and they are walking through the reception then praise the Lord. It's a miracle."
That was interpreted in certain quarters as a dig at Martinez for minding his players and prompted some unfair criticism of their commitment to the international sphere. Coleman, who soldiered through the pain barrier on more than one occasion for this Irish regime, was angered by that line of thought.
The reality is that fitness issues have prevented the duo from being fully available for their employer too.
Coleman only missed three league encounters last season, but was reported to be suffering from hamstring and calf/shin complaints at various stages. McCarthy started just 27 of their 38 Premier League dates with hamstring and ankle injuries listed as the primary factors and he will struggle to match that tally in 2015/'16.
Everton are an entertaining and energetic side to watch but their medical record is not much better than city rivals Liverpool, whose performance has come under scrutiny.
Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Mo Besic have missed long periods of the season, while Steven Pienaar and Bryan Oviedo reside in team news bulletins.
Tom Cleverley and Kevin Mirallas have had their chances hindered by setbacks. McGeady and Gibson have also spent enough days on the treatment table.
The proliferation of hamstring strains during Martinez's stint in charge did prompt comment in the English press during a rough spell 12 months ago when changes in the medical department became a news story and his training preferences were analysed.
Everton have a squad that would compete favourably with teams challenging for a place in the top six, but absentees have complicated the mission.
On his most recent trip to Ireland, in the days after Coleman was carried off at Goodison Park, O'Neill expressed relief that he was in a worry-free zone when it came a setback with that kind of prognosis. That window for relaxation is limited.
The bright-sided perspective of Coleman and McCarthy's woe is that the break allows them to recharge batteries and ensures they will be fresher in June than the participants who will arrive off the back of 40-50-game campaigns. That may well be so, and there is no desire to scaremonger here.
Nevertheless, there comes a point where it's dangerous to presume that a succession of knocks will have no impact, especially in the case of the Glaswegian who has a lot of miles on the clock for a 25-year-old.
With three games in nine days, tournament football demands durability and it is imperative that the leading lights enter round one without feeling the wear and tear of niggling ailments.
Euro 2012 illustrated what can happen when too many key performers are compromised.