AS he packs his bag today to prepare for tomorrow’s trip to Dublin and a squad announcement for the June games against England and Scotland, Martin O’Neill has more than enough issues to keep his mind busy.
And even though the key clash with the Scots in Dublin is still five weeks away, the fitness of captain Robbie Keane will be in O’Neill’s thoughts as he attempts to come up with a way of beating Scotland.
Over the weekend Keane was again absent for his club LA Galaxy as they lost 2-1 to FC Dallas, the sixth match which Keane has missed. A groin injury has sidelined Keane since last month which he picked up in an MLS defeat to Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Ireland captain had initially hoped to be back for the mid-April meeting with Kansas City but the groin has yet to heal and the focus now switches to next Sunday’s game against Orlando City, current home of Sean St Ledger, though the Ireland defender is struggling to get game time, and O’Neill is eager to see Keane back in action with his club.
While Kevin Doyle is today in the US to complete the formalities of his move to Colorado Rapids ahead of tomorrow’s transfer deadline, James McClean is also in talks about a move to the MLS, with New York Red Bulls keen on the winger who is certain to leave Wigan following their relegation to League One.
There was some good news for O’Neill from the weekend’s Premier League action as Stephen Ward managed a 15-minute cameo as a sub for Burnley in their 1-0 win over Hull, only Ward’s second appearance for the side since he broke his ankle in December.
And Shay Given kept his place in the Aston Villa team for their win over West Brom, while Jack Grealish put in another good display for Tim Sherwood’s side and Grealish’s continued good form will put his international future to the fore when O’Neill meets the media in Dublin when naming his squad tomorrow.
Villa fans have remarked on the contribution which Grealish – still only 19 – has made to a revived Villa and while the player insisted two months ago that he was holding off on any international involvement until the start of next season, his form with Villa and the importance of that Scotland tie could force O’Neill’s hand and lead to him being named in the senior squad for the England/Scotland games.
Meanwhile, Wes Hoolahan will try to force his way back into the starting XI at Norwich City for next Saturday’s playoff clash with Ipswich Town as he was a surprise omission from the side from the first leg of that playoff battle.
Hoolahan had started the previous eight games for the Canaries but he didn’t make the team for the 1-1 draw away to Ipswich, though he did come on for the last 20 minutes, boss Alex Neil hinting at changes for the home leg next Saturday.
Ireland internationals Noel Hunt, Stephen Hunt and David McGoldrick were all unused subs for Ipswich in the game but with attacking midfielder Luke Varney out for the second leg on Saturday, they could some into contention as Mick McCarthy’s side head to Carrow Road.
While Ipswich and Norwich battle it out for the right to play at Wembley, one Irishman has already made it there as current U21 cap and Cork native Alan Browne made his first appearance since January for Preston in their 3-0 League One playoff semi-final win over Joe Murphy’s Chesterfield, a 4-0 aggregate win for Preston.