Monday 26 September 2016

Grealish grief adds to O'Neill's injury problems

Published 06/10/2015 | 02:30

Roy Keane rolls back the years by showing some neat ball control at training yesterday.
Roy Keane rolls back the years by showing some neat ball control at training yesterday.
Martin O'Neill

In the two-and-a-half weeks since he named his provisional squad for the decisive encounters with Germany and Poland, things have not gone particularly well for Martin O'Neill.

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Seamus Coleman, his star performer, looks set to miss one or both of the games after failing to recover from a hamstring injury.

Ciaran Clark and Marc Wilson, his preferred options to partner John O'Shea, are out of the picture unless the latter responds to treatment at Stoke this week.

Aiden McGeady has failed to get a look-in at Everton, which means it would be too much of an ask to select him for the visit of the world champions - a fixture for which Ireland will also be without the suspended James McClean and Glenn Whelan.

And then there's Jack Grealish.

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The loss of the Aston Villa youngster to England was hardly a huge surprise after he rejected a call-up from O'Neill in the summer, yet it is clear that the reaction to his decision has angered the Irish manager.

When the matter was raised yesterday, the 63-year-old indirectly referenced a piece by Sunday Independent columnist Eamonn Sweeney which, amongst other things, described efforts by O'Neill (right) and the FAI to convince Grealish to wear green as "utterly demeaning."

Evidently, the Derryman was unimpressed by the depiction of the FAI as a jilted party desperate to nab Grealish or indeed any English-born player by whatever means possible.

"I think, contrary to what was written yesterday by a journalist, I never chased it," he said, sternly, when asked for his first reaction to the news.

"I never chased Jack Grealish at all. I never prostituted myself in any way, shape or form trying to get Jack Grealish. In fact, every single time I've come here, it was the first question I was asked.

"Actually I was accused of the other thing, of not chasing it up. Jack Grealish had a decision to make. Jack Grealish was born in England. His father was born in England and therefore he made a decision to play in England so that's it. It's absolutely and utterly his and his father's decision to do that so it's fine because I left it in their hands entirely to do that."

Read more Eamonn Sweeney's column here

If O'Neill is frustrated with the talented 20-year-old, he is hiding it well. It is the fallout from the saga, and what it says about the limitations of the Irish job, that appears to be the cause of vexation.

"Lads, you'll have to make your mind up about this," he continued, after being asked to elaborate on the impact of waving goodbye to an individual with star potential, even if he was the product of the English system.

"Whether, as some journalists are saying, you go and prostitute yourself about taking players who were not actually born in the country.

"The article said that it was seen to be ok in Jack Charlton's day because the depth of the squad in the English team was stronger.

"It seemed to be a contradiction to be honest but, at the end of it all, those are the rules at the minute and every other country is doing it.

"Naturally, I would love if every single one of these players - a bit like Celtic (the Lisbon Lions) where they were born 30 miles from Glasgow - it would be nice to know that everyone was born and bred here but that may not necessarily be the case.

"But that doesn't prevent them from wanting to and being eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland. Jack has really good talent, he's a really fine player and, of course, it's a disappointment to lose out on that there but hopefully it's not the end of the world."

There is a certain pertinence in the timing, however, as the spate of injuries for this gathering has exposed the lack of strength in depth.

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A late call for Darron Gibson, who has played just 18 minutes of competitive football since March, has emphasised the fact. McGeady, a preferred starter, is so far down the queue at Goodison Park that his manager acknowledged that a 'little cameo role' at the Aviva is the best-case scenario for the Glaswegian.

Coleman has reported for duty and is desperate to play but it remains a long shot.

The broader dilemma is that the importance of the Warsaw match will be determined by events in Dublin and Glasgow on Thursday; if Ireland lose in Ballsbridge and Scotland take a positive result from the visit of Poles then the group will go to the wire.

O'Neill therefore has to weigh up whether to give his walking wounded a Sunday focus. Taking anything from an in-form German group would represent a serious achievement.

To illustrate the contrast, Joachim Loew's scouting assignment over the weekend was watching Bayern Munich destroy Borussia Dortmund. Ireland's supremo was at the Championship meeting of Derby and Brentford.

Derby could provide three of his welcoming party for Loew's charges with Jeff Hendrick a starter, Cyrus Christie ready to deputise for Coleman and Richard Keogh a contender with Clark and Wilson sidelined.

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"They didn't win the World Cup for nothing," said Christie, who has to shake off a minor niggle. "You need to prove that you can go out there and play against the best, that's where you want to be."

A patched-up Irish side did come away from Gelsenkirchen with a point 12 months ago as the Germans suffered from a Brazilian hangover.

"I think they're stronger now," asserted O'Neill. "What is important now is that Germany have all their players available at this minute."

On their last visit to Dublin, in October 2012, a weakened Irish side shipped six goals, a humbling reverse that representing the beginning of the end for Giovanni Trapattoni. O'Neill is fully aware of what can happen if they hit their stride again.

"You know yourself what they're capable of doing here, what they did here not that long ago in a match here and of course you have to be careful of all those things," he said.

"But if I start thinking about what they did here some time ago, I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning so it's really important to be absolutely positive here and not to have any sort of regret about how we set up, how we want to try and approach the game and how we want to get out of this group."

Of course, should Poland win in Hampden Park then Ireland are guaranteed a play-off spot. That uncomplicated scenario, which would remove stress from Ireland's duties this week, would be just fine with O'Neill.

He admitted as much after Scotland's slip in Tbilisi opened the door to France again. That was before a turbulent end to September raised the difficulty levels of a tricky double-header.

"If you're saying would I take the play-offs now, there's no point in beating around the bush - yeah," he said, without equivocation.

"I wouldn't have a concern at all about the play-offs, I'd take my chances."

Given the events of the past fortnight, the attractiveness of waiting another month for judgment day is understandable.

Read Eamonn Sweeney's column on line at http://bit.ly/1PftUKV

Irish Independent

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