Tuesday 20 August 2019

Injuries see huge week begin with a whimper

Darren Randolph and David Forde will both be hoping to be Ireland's No 1 for Friday's Euro play-off game against Bosnia
Darren Randolph and David Forde will both be hoping to be Ireland's No 1 for Friday's Euro play-off game against Bosnia
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill would have preferred to start his biggest week as Ireland boss immersed in manager speak rather than medical jargon.

He spent the first few minutes of his press duties in Abbotstown running through updates on the players that were absent from the first training session building up to Friday's first leg in Zenica.

"It's hardly ideal, is it?" he is asked.

"That's life," he shrugged. "No problem."

It is a problem, though, to be facing into a crucial game without the services of valuable squad members and he suggested that training this week will be organisational as opposed to overly physical.

With Jon Walters and John O'Shea already out of the away leg through suspension, the prospect of losing the latter for the return is a setback. He will stay in Sunderland this week for treatment on his hamstring problem and is refusing to give up hope.

Shane Long, meanwhile, has received an injection at Southampton after seeing a specialist about his ankle ligament issue.

Dr Alan Byrne has told O'Neill that Wednesday will be the cut-off point for making a call on the Bosnia trip. "Alan said we won't really know much more for another 48 hours," he said, "But at least he hasn't ruled himself out. He just said to 'hold fire' which I'm prepared to do."

Keeping the Tipperary native back for next Monday's decider in Dublin could prove to be the best scenario. "A definite possibility," conceded the 63-year-old Ireland manager.


He trusts that Long will be honest about his well-being. "I think that I know Shane well enough," he stressed.

"If he says 'I'm really ready here, I'm ready for the game', that could not be more positive. That's great.

"I don't want people saying they are fit to play and then go down in three or four minutes. That's not good to any of us."

The only thing that has bothered O'Neill over the last few days is club managers taking matters in their own hands and offering definitive verdicts on fitness issues which he found to be unhelpful.

Specifically, he was looking at his counterparts in England's north-east. "Sunderland and Newcastle seem to be saying there's no chance of people playing," he said in a tone which made his unhappiness clear.

O'Neill can understand Sam Allardyce's position on O'Shea given that he missed out his scheduled weekend date, but is miffed with Steve McClaren over comments he made about Rob Elliot.

The Newcastle netminder has not lined out competitively for Ireland and is only a person of interest now because of the goalkeeping dilemma brought about by Shay Given's unavailability and Darren Randolph and David Forde's inactivity.

Elliot arrives with Premier League games under his belt and O'Neill explained that was the rationale behind throwing Randolph in ahead of Forde last month when Given damaged his knee in the German clash. That makes him a contender, even if the suspicion lingers that Randolph is in possession of the shirt for now.

However, O'Neill wants to be making that call himself and was unimpressed that McClaren raised doubts about his fitness, saying that he hoped Ireland didn't call him up in the minutes after Elliot had overcome a thigh problem to produce a man of the match display in Newcastle's victory at Bournemouth.

"It seems a wee bit strange that, while there was definitely a doubt about Robbie on Saturday, he plays brilliantly in the game, wins the match for Newcastle and then, suddenly, he's not fit for us - which is going to be a week later," he said.

"You'd have to be a soothsayer to know that somebody's not going to be fit. I think a lot will depend, without me overstepping the mark, really on what happens when the specialist has seen him.

"But it seems a wee bit strange to say that he shouldn't be travelling with us when in actual fact he has just won the game for Newcastle and performed miracles.

"Since I've been the manager, I think that every club could honestly say that I have basically looked after them pretty well and I certainly don't want to play somebody who is injured if that's the case.

"But these games are very important to us. I've been a club manager and I understand these things but I'm not so sure that I could actually honestly step up and ask someone to play on a Saturday who plays brilliantly and wins the points and then say 'Sorry you can't go, you're not fit'."

He then joked that an excuse about Elliot slipping in the bath would have to be provided to strengthen that case.

The 29-year-old, who is used to being in the background for club and country, must be a tad bemused to be at the centre of such a dispute.

For now, he is undergoing treatment at Newcastle and the same applies for Alan Judge and Paul McShane at Brentford and Reading respectively.

O'Neill confirmed that Harry Arter was in his plans after coming through his comeback matches at Bournemouth in one piece. He impressed in his cameo during the June friendly with England and his subsequent lay-off has prevented the midfielder from pushing his case.

Daryl Murphy's hat-trick at the weekend was a welcome boost in light of the other striking issues and Robbie Keane is also in the equation despite LA Galaxy's campaign ending prematurely. O'Neill said that he was exceptionally sharp in the small-sided training matches.

Another positive from the weekend was Ciaran Clark starring for Aston Villa against Manchester City. After a stop-start 2015, he is just happy to be present and fit after becoming far too accustomed to the treatment table.

Irish Independent

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