Martin O'Neill's long squad list of no relevance to real issues
O'Neill's fate will be shaped by usual suspects
Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30
With 40 players named and three weeks to go, the official excuse for Martin O'Neill's trip to Dublin yesterday was basically a waste of time.
The provisional squad announcement for next month's crucial Euro 2016 qualifiers with Germany and Poland was notable only for the absence of talking points.
These days, the real decisions are made on the weekend before his players report to Dublin, with an email from the FAI which details the revised panel providing the real HR update.
For the likes of Simon Cox, Paul Green, Anthony Stokes and, latterly, Alan Judge, it is a familiar drill. They know their presence on the long list is of little significance other than confirming that O'Neill is aware of their existence. Unless there's a spate of injuries, they won't be packing their bags.
Darron Gibson, who returns to the mix, will also be conscious that he needs to start playing football at Everton again to book a ticket.
O'Neill hasn't spoken to the midfielder about his recent travails but suggested that his assistant Roy Keane had been in contact with his troubled ex-Manchester United colleague. "Sometimes when you phone Darron you don't always necessarily get a reply," said O'Neill, before adding, "he says the same about me."
Realistically, the October fixtures will come too soon for Gibson to make an impact.
Therefore, the real purpose of this exercise was to gain an early insight into O'Neill's thinking about the rest of Group D now that the dust has settled on the wins over Gibraltar and Georgia.
What did we learn? In short, he gave the strong impression that James McCarthy will step into the suspended Glenn Whelan's specific defensive role for the visit of Germany, diplomatically hinted that Robbie Keane will be kept in reserve and implied that Aiden McGeady can still have a role to play even if he arrives with a few U-21 matches and a League Cup run-out under his belt.
With an eye to the future, O'Neill also confirmed that he'd spoken to the father of the talented Arsenal midfielder Daniel Crowley, a player with the potential to create a Jack Grealish style tug-of-war.
There have been encouraging reports that Crowley, who is currently on loan at Barnsley, is leaning towards Ireland after involvement in the English underage set-up. O'Neill spoke with his dad after Noel King put them in touch and a scouting trip to Oakwell for his assistant Keane made it clear that the FAI are seriously monitoring another gifted kid from the Midlands with a strong Irish background.
One school of thought on Grealish, who continues to dither on his future, is that Ireland could have taken the bull by the horns and promoted the youngster to the senior squad well ahead of his full Villa breakthrough. When asked if fast-tracking Crowley to influence his thinking was an option, O'Neill sounded a cautious note.
"Of course you have meetings and all of that but you would want, as best as possible, for a player not to be forced into something that he might regret further on," he stressed. "You want the decision to come from the player, from his family, from his heart."
McCarthy, the current great white hope of the Irish midfield, has already been through that process.
Irish fans are waiting for his career in green to really kick off and the Derryman has urged the Glaswegian to drive forward and try and make a real impact.
However, when the world champions come to D4, it seems that his brief will be to mind the house with regular gatekeeper Whelan sitting it out.
"James McCarthy plays the holding role at Everton, moreso perhaps than what I am sometimes asking him to do for us so I think that he should probably be able to fulfil that role in the manner in which Glenn does," he said.
"I think that sometimes you think that because James is young and still learning the game, he can do more things. But I don't think it should be a major problem for him to slot into that role for a one off."
He is optimistic that his club colleague Seamus Coleman will shake off a hamstring problem, although there are four Everton encounters between now and check-in at the new base in Castleknock so there's a fair bit of water to flow under the bridge.
In the ideal world, McGeady would be included in all of those Toffees dates. Alas, the fact that he's struggling to make the bench for Premier League encounters is posing a difficulty for his international manager.
"What I assume is he will get a couple of U-21 games at least," said O'Neill after admitting that James McClean's ban for Germany is a real pain. "It's not the real deal by any stretch, not the same adrenaline rush.
"Aiden has the talent and if he's playing regularly then he's a big choice for us because he can break down the sides. If we'd gone on a little bit longer at 0-0 against Georgia, you'd have found that Aiden would have been on the pitch to try and conjure something for us."
For now, at least, O'Neill is relying on a boost from factors that are firmly out of his hands.