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No pointers

IT must be a thankless task being a synapse in Martin O'Neill's capacious brain, always fated to teeter on the brink of firing but never quite reaching the point where the circuit is completed and a decision made.

It has now been more than nine meandering months since he was appointed, and yesterday, if we were hoping for some kind of clarity about the men that will launch Ireland's Euro 2016 campaign in Tblisi, we were disappointed.

Instead, a 35-man squad as unwieldy as a turning super-tanker and hints that some, notably Andy Reid, are working with injuries but may not make it.

Name- checked

Almost every Irish footballer in England and Scotland was name- checked which, presumably, leaves everyone guessing heading into the final games before they break for international duty in 10 days' time.

Clearly, that's the way O'Neill likes it. We're all guessing, though he did offer a tantalising hint that he, at least, is not and now knows his best team. 
That's the first time he's even gone that far, which isn't very far at all.

You would hope that after this length of time and plenty of games to try his options, he would know very well his best XI and apart from one or two marginal judgement calls - which may yet need to be made - his thoughts will not change much in the next few weeks.

He answered only one question with real clarity yesterday and sounded a tad terse when someone asked about Robbie Keane and the captaincy. Will he wear the armband against Georgia?

"Why wouldn't he?" came the response, casually wiping away several questions along the same lines which were put to O'Neill 
almost from day one and received less-than-confirmatory answers.

But never mind. Maybe this was O'Neill with the game-face on, or at least the first sign of it. A manager is only ever one game away from criticism and after the warm and fuzzy honeymoon, the longest any Ireland manager has ever had, he knows that he must deliver soon.

So there were a few barks before he relaxed into it, particularly when the hitmen of rival radio stations - who, because of the job they do, always ask questions as if nothing else matters - had dispersed.


The real news of the day was the fact that Jack Grealish has yet to make his mind up about what shirt he wants to wear, but that O'Neill has had a chat with his dad, Kevin.

On this matter, O'Neill should be left at it and, if at all possible, as little said or written about the young Villa midfielder and his international dilemma as possible.

It is clearly a delicate matter and O'Neill is right in the middle of it 
with a better handle on it than anyone else other than the player himself and Roy Keane.

O'Neill admitted that the English FA is now far more proactive about tracking under-age players, and where there is any interest shown by the FAI, they are much more likely to respond.

Before, it was largely a benign disinterest but with good, young prospects from all the local nations 
in short supply, someone like Grealish will be a priority for Lancaster Gate.

O'Neill confirmed that David McGoldrick is working away on proving his eligibility and that the Ipswich Town striker could have a role to play in the campaign ahead if he gets a passport.

Unlike many who would like to find a late international vocation but sit back and wait for it to happen, McGoldrick has said himself that he must prove the link and then submit his name to the FAI for consideration.

O'Neill has the entire summer to get his mind around the reality of 35 players and his urgent need to find XI that can win in Georgia.

Losing Richard Dunne wasn't the ideal way to get the season going and he bridled mildly at the suggestion that he had written him off before the summer.

It seemed that way to some but the logical view was that O'Neill was never going to find anyone better.

Certainly, at the time, O'Neill expressed some reservations about the fact that Dunne had bailed out of the summer schedule at a sponsors event in Dublin and that communication between the two men had been incomplete, though he accepted his reasons for taking an early holiday.


A sultry night deep into the realm which was once the Soviet Union and against a liberated nation which still thinks we stitched them up four years ago is the kind of occasion Dunne was born to dominate.

O'Neill always knew that and it would be interesting to know just what kind of communication there was between the two of them. Could Dunne have been persuaded to play out the year, just three more games and then play it by ear?