Issues for O'Neill in midfield and defence

Martin O'Neill

By Aidan Fitzmaurice

AS he heads into a week which will be dominated by talk about what emerges from a book by a former Ireland midfielder, Martin O'Neill's thoughts today were focused on the clear problems in his current midfield and defence for the looming Euro 2016 qualifiers.

The Ireland players report to Dublin for duty today but of concern to the Ireland boss will be the ones who don't show up as James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman have been all but ruled out of international duty.

O'Neill had expected to be without the pair for the first of that double header, at home to Gibraltar on Saturday, but he was holding out some hope that the Everton duo would be on the plane to Germany.

But as neither man featured in yesterday's defeat to Manchester United, Everton are not expected to release them for international duty. While O'Neill was not too concerned about having his strongest XI for the Gibraltar game, he was eager to have a full deck to choose from in Gelsenkirchen.


Coleman's absence will mean a reshuffle of the back four, with the possibility of moving John O'Shea or Marc Wilson to right back, then pushing Alex Pearce and Richard Keogh, both still untested at competitive level, to the fore. Midfield is also a concern with McCarthy out. Jeff Hendrick is only regaining fitness after a shoulder injury and his club boss, Steve McClaren, expressed surprise that Ireland had even called up the Dubliner, while there's also a worry over David Meyler.

There were some bits of good news for O'Neill from the weekend action at club level.

Stephen Ward started his first Premier League game for Burnley, while Aiden McGeady and James McClean also started for their clubs while Jon Walters and Jeff Hendrick made sub appearances.

And there were some Irish scorers to give O'Neill food for thought. Robbie Keane netted twice for LA Galaxy in a 3-0 win over Toronto while Daryl Murphy scored both Ipswich goals in yesterday's 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest.