O'Neill finds it hard to leave players out
For all his years in management, Martin O'Neill admits the task of smothering the Euro dream for a cohort of candidates this summer represents one of the most difficult in his career. The Ireland manager confirmed his intention to finalise his 23-man squad for the tournament following the last friendly against the Netherlands on May 27.
Though his assistant Roy Keane had hinted that the panel for the jaunt to France might be settled upon once the club season closes in early May, O'Neill will keep his options open until the list of players needs to be lodged with UEFA on June 3.
During his club travails at Leicester City, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland, the necessity for culling players and staff came with the territory. But breaking the news to Adam Rooney and Alan Judge that they wouldn't be heading to Gibraltar in September after training all week, and then likewise to Kevin Doyle a month later for the trip to Poland, weighed heavily on the Derryman's conscience.
"As I've got older, I thought that I would have less problems telling player that they haven't made it, but it's actually the other way around," admitted O'Neill. "I have great sympathy about telling these players because they've come of their own free will. They want to do well and they want to play for Ireland.
"That does become a bit of a problem, a bigger problem than I expected, and is more difficult than club level. It is easy to tell some sort of scallywag who couldn't care less. But at international level, the boys want to come and play. There is natural disappointment to be left out of the team but even greater disappointment to be left out of the squad."
Ruthless as it may be, the approach looks likely to remain in place ahead of the Euros, which kick off for Ireland on June 13 in Paris against Sweden.
"If I was to name 23 just before the Dutch game and, let's say we picked up four injuries, do you want to tell four players, 'Oh by the way, you weren't really good enough for the squad in the 23 and now you're with us'?" O'Neill asked.
One of the contenders playing catch-up in the reckoning is Darron Gibson. Unless his fellow Foylesider brokers an emergency loan soon, further Euro anguish looms for the Everton midfielder given his absence of game-time.
"The chances of Darron playing a lot of football if he stays at Everton are pretty limited because they'll play their strongest side in the FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea," reasoned O'Neill.
"That's got to be a consideration for him. We need to make sure the 23 players picked are going to last the course at the Euros. Our games are in relatively quick succession - we play Saturday and then Wednesday. If you're thinking about playing at the Euros after playing only two or three games during the year, it's just not going to work."
Sunday Indo Sport