Martin O'Neill signs off long week with Everton rebuke
DEEP in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night, a long and exhausting week cannot diminish Martin O'Neill's desire to conclude his final media engagement with one last rebuke.
The entrance of Everton chairman Bill Kenwright into the debate over the club's handling of their Irish contingent's international availability had arrived close enough to O'Neill's pre-match press conference for the Ireland manager to plead ignorance.
Of course, the controversy arose from a comment made by O'Neill's assistant, Roy Keane. In response to Keane's sarcastic line that it was sometimes miraculous to see Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy walk given their injury doubts, Kenwright had branded the remarks "stupid" and predicted the "shock" around the club at such an aspersion would extend to manager Roberto Martinez.
When asked if he was surprised at the intervention from Merseyside, O'Neill asserted: "I think sometimes you have to know all of the facts before you speak."
The Ireland manager was whisked away from his briefing at that point, adding nothing other than confirmation that he'd met Kenwright in the past. How his next interaction with the impresario unfolds may go some away to quelling the unrest between Ireland and Everton. If O'Neill displayed characteristic subtlety by predicting James McCarthy's fitness had last week entailed a club game rather than European Championship qualifier, then his sidekick obliterated whatever diplomatic relations remained between the parties through his sermon last Sunday.
"There are a lot of cross purposes here," reflected O'Neill following Tuesday's win over USA, attempting to reintroduce a degree of understanding to a delicate situation. "I spoke to Roberto a way back, last Monday, about players. James thought there was always a chance he could make it. Once James felt there was a chance, and he felt pretty good, then there was always a possibility and it was worth bringing him here.
"Regardless of that, even to have him around the squad given the games he has missed, it was nice to have him.
"He is a Premier League player and has been playing very well recently for Everton. It was always going to be touch and go.
"The minute the scan cleared up, it gave us a little bit of hope. Do I think James will be fit for Everton this weekend? He may well be. It is not a problem. But, as I said, I might speak to Bill Kenwright."
Irrespective of the personalities involved, the presence of Everton's quartet for Ireland's next assignment against Group D leaders Poland is imperative. O'Neill is open to the possibility of filling the week-long build-up to that qualifier on March 29 with a friendly, most likely in London, but his aim to add further English-born recruits like David McGoldrick and Cyrus Christie is unlikely to finalise in time.
He said: " I want to have a proper look at one or two more on our radar in the Championship.
"I would say it will be problematic, in terms of paperwork, to have them ready for March, but it does not mean they are not capable." Facing into the new year with their three qualification rivals to visit Dublin, O'Neill remains insistent the setback of defeat in Scotland nine days ago can be overcome by Ireland.
"2015 was always going to decide our destiny," he reasoned.
"I think from the disappointment of Glasgow, it was nice to regain a little bit of momentum by winning so convincingly against a good USA side"
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