RICHARD DUNNE will only play a part in Ireland's Euro 2016 qualification campaign if he is fit enough and good enough.
Martin O'Neill walked carefully through the subject of Dunne's much flagged in advance withdrawal from the Ireland squad for Wednesday's friendly against Serbia at the Aviva Stadium, but it is clear that he has made no hard and fast decisions about his preferred centre-back partnership.
Clearly, O'Neill and Dunne are both very mindful of the injury which almost ended Dunne's career. So far, he seems to be standing up reasonably well to life in the Championship and plenty of football, though not well enough to include a midweek friendly.
Come September, there will be no room for sentiment or wishful thinking when it comes to the centre of O'Neill's Irish defence.
"I think it's down to form really. I don't think he has missed a game for QPR and that's something this time last year he could never have envisaged. In terms of age, if we were lucky to have qualified and got through, that might be a different issue," said O'Neill.
When it was pointed out Dunne, currently 35, would be 37 by the time the finals in France roll around, O'Neill accepted the time has come to look beyond Ireland's best defender for the last five years.
"Of course. We've got five (centre-backs) in the squad," said O'Neill. "It's getting back to the point. If the qualifying game was tomorrow morning, then you'd have to give it some thought, he's (Dunne) played a lot of games and he's got a lot of experience.
"I thought that John O'Shea and young Marc Wilson did very well in the game against Latvia and Wilson carried that form into the next match against Poland, where I thought he did exceptionally well. He's playing regularly at this minute for Stoke and his confidence has been given a boost from that.
"I'm well aware that Richard's age may well be against him at some stage or other, but I'm not sure that I have the wherewithal, or the ability, to look that far ahead to something."
Another rapidly approaching veteran status, Andy Reid, will miss this trip through injury and O'Neill, while disappointed with his absence, has assured the Nottingham Forest midfielder there will be room at the inn for summer friendlies against Italy and Turkey.
"If you think back in November time, Wes started in that game, Andy was going to start out in Poland in the match and then he pulls his hamstring in training so he goes back and really I was looking forward to him coming into the squad at this time. He is in absolutely brilliant form and it's a blow and it will be a blow to Forest as well, but we'll see what the summertime might bring.
"You think at one stage or other that things might have passed him by, put it this way ... he would always have been prone to being a pound or two too heavy, but he's looked after himself very well and maybe he has realised that to prolong his career, he's got to look after himself.
"The summer games will be important, yes, not just Andy. There are a number of players who would be in the back of your mind and you think, well, if they can make a real point when they play, it's something you wouldn't overlook."
O'Neill went to watch Watford beat Blackpool 4-0 and his main target was U21 midfielder Seán Murray.
"I just went to see the lad Murray, he was playing in the game and started the match. He didn't do too badly. He's involved with Noel (King) at this minute. My own view is that some of the senior guys are ahead of him at this moment. Somebody asked me about young (Jack) Grealish. I see he was a sub for Notts County and they were beaten."
"My point is, you're hoping. I'm essentially in the job about three months. First time you start looking at players was after the Poland game.
"You're hoping along the way that some young fellow will come up and be worthy of his place in the team, not just picking someone for the sake of it and he then gets an inflated opinion of himself because he's been named in the squad. He has to earn it a little and, so far, I haven't seen anyone able to make that step, but I'm not despairing. There's still time."