Martin O'Neill refuses to rule James McCarthy out of Moldova clash
Martin O'Neill is refusing to rule James McCarthy out of the Republic of Ireland's crunch World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Wales - at the player's insistence.
The 26-year-old has not managed a single minute of competitive football for club Everton this season as he attempts to shake off a persistent knee injury, and he has been warned by manager Ronald Koeman to put club before country after being called up by Ireland.
Koeman and O'Neill have been engaged in something of a feud since McCarthy aggravated a hamstring injury on international duty in March having earlier arrived with a groin problem.
However, the player trained with the rest of the Republic squad in Dublin on Monday afternoon and while O'Neill admits he will be cautious, he has not given up hope of having the midfielder available to Moldova's visit to the Aviva Stadium on Friday and the trip to Cardiff which follows it.
Asked if he was ruling McCarthy out, the manager said: "Well, I don't think so, no - and he doesn't want to be ruled out at the moment.
"We'll have to really look at that very, very carefully and see how he is. He has trained now for quite a number of days and he has joined in with the first team at Everton as well, so we'll see how he is and take it on a day-to-day basis."
If that raises eyebrows on Merseyside - and given Koeman's reaction to Ireland's use of his player in recent times, that might be the mildest response - O'Neill insists he does not know why it should having previously reassured the Dutchman he would never risk a player who was not ready to play.
He added: "Personally speaking, I would have thought that given the amount of time that James has been out - and he picked up the injury at club level - I would have thought that Everton would be quite pleased that he is out of the environment for a little while, training with the international boys and seeing how things go.
"And beyond that, if he's feeling pretty decent, then I would have thought that that's something that Everton would have been quite looking forward to."
Ireland's need to have one of their better players available as the campaign reaches its climax is all the more pressing with Jonathan Walters out with a knee problem and Robbie Brady and James McClean both suspended for the first leg of the double-header.
In addition, striker Kevin Doyle last week announced his retirement on medical advice, keeper Keiren Westwood has withdrawn from the squad with a rib injury and Harry Arter, Shane Long, David McGoldrick, Jonathan Hayes and Eunan O'Kane all sat out training on Monday.
The walking wounded are all expected to rejoin their team-mates on Tuesday with newcomers Sean Maguire, Scott Hogan and Aiden O'Brien in particular looking to force their way into O'Neill's thinking.
The Republic have slipped to third place in Group D, a point adrift of second-placed Wales and know there is no margin for error.
O'Neill said: "It's a thing to look forward to. This is what you play for. We have two games, we have to win both matches.
"I can't concern myself about the second game against Wales. We have to put all our energy into the first match on Friday night to try to win that game so that the second match will mean something."