Keane return and Long's form a boost for O'Neill

Aidan Fitzmaurice

THE Hull City situation is grim from an Irish viewpoint, but Republic boss Martin O'Neill says he's encouraged by some late-season good news stories from his squad.

O'Neill, who was in his native county of Derry on Saturday to manage a Derry City XI in a fund-raising game for cancer-stricken Derry player Mark Farren, was on hand to see Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters star (and score, in Walters' case) for Stoke City in their demolition of Liverpool.

There was also positivity from across the Atlantic for O'Neill (inset), ahead of those games against England and Scotland, as Robbie Keane returned from injury for LA Galaxy after a seven-game absence while Kevin Doyle had a winning debut for his new club, Colorado Rapids. On top of that, last week John O'Shea secured Premier League safety for next season with Sunderland while Shane Long picked up the goal of the season award from his club while Wes Hoolahan could earn promotion to the top flight with Norwich today.

O'Neill has received a request from LA Galaxy to excuse Keane from the England friendly to all him play for his club and the Ireland boss is likely to agree as he's just pleased that Keane's long layoff is over, while Long's form and O'Shea's situation are also pluses.

"Shane getting a few goals for Southampton is encouraging," O'Neill said, aware that Sunderland went into the final day of the season knowing they were safe.

"I saw John O'Shea's interview at the end of the game, there was a big sigh of relief because he'd talked about 'relegation Sunday', when it was first advertised they were in it. That'll be a great relief."