Monday 19 March 2018

Ireland not on radar as O'Neill delivers warning to McGeady

Martin O’Neill in pensive mood as he answers questions at yesterday’s press conference
Martin O’Neill in pensive mood as he answers questions at yesterday’s press conference
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The Jack Grealish saga may rumble on, but Martin O'Neill is not convinced that making another play for Stephen Ireland is worth the hassle.

O'Neill feels that the Stoke midfielder is a long way short of the level that made a serious impression in his formative days at Manchester City, and therefore had no inclination to put a call on the Cork man near the top of his to-do list after he starred against Spurs last Saturday.

The 63-year-old confirmed his opinion by referencing the Cobh native in a warning to Aiden McGeady - who he is worried about following an injury-ravaged spell at Everton - that he is in danger of wasting his talent.

Ireland was spoken about in the early days of O'Neill's tenure, yet the Derry man heard nothing from the player's agent after a return from international exile was tentatively floated.

O'Neill used to be a fan and was involved in his transfer to Aston Villa although he had resigned his post by the time the move was completed. It is safe to say, however, that he is less enthusiastic about securing Ireland's services for this brief because of his inconsistent career and his apparent disinterest.


"There is a difference," said O'Neill. "Young Grealish, whatever decisions he has to make, you can understand at 19 years of age that he is taking a little bit of time over it. He's not somebody whose career, let's be fair, both at club and international level, has been fitful.

"And the brutal truth is that Stephen Ireland is not the Stephen Ireland that played brilliantly for Manchester City quite some years ago."

After a pause, he did added he always has room for 'talent in the side', but a lengthy discussion of McGeady's plight led to an unprompted mention of the follically challenged playmaker.

"You mentioned Stephen Ireland," O'Neill continued. "You don't want to get to the end of your career and find that you had an incredible amount of talent, more talent than most people would have died for, and you haven't utilised it properly."

The McGeady matter is a curious one, essentially arising from the Derry man being slightly miffed to belatedly learn that the hamstring problem that forced the winger out of June's draw with Scotland has been lingering for the guts of a year.

He stressed that he had no gripe with Everton in this regard, even if there have been disagreements in the past related to James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman, and instead he suggested that the Glaswegian should be taking control of the situation.

"There was no reason for me to suggest that the only reason he hadn't played for Everton was that the manager hadn't chosen him," said O'Neill. "It's just that it came as a bit of a surprise to find out that the injury had been a really lengthy ongoing affair.

"What I was surprised about was that Aiden had played the game against England and had trained during the course of the week and then on the Thursday before our Saturday game he really felt it.

"So that's something he has to look after and monitor himself. I'm sure that he has been given a set of exercises that he needs to follow and I'm not saying for one moment that he is not. But that's a long time to be carrying that kind of muscle problem around."

O'Neill believes that McGeady is extremely important to Irish prospects, a point proved when he selected him for the March visit of Poland despite a long lay-off at Everton. That came as a shock to the 29-year-old who later admitted that he'd received an injection without telling his employers.

Ten days after the Scottish disappointment, a discussion took place between manager and player. "I passed on my advice as a person who was his manager at club level years ago to say that with all the talent he possesses, the most important thing is to get fit," explained O'Neill. "I think he was taking it on board."

McGeady has yet to figure for Everton this term with the hamstring gripe holding him back. He's in a group of mainstays that O'Neill would like to see on the park before meeting up at the new base in Abbotstown ahead of the Gibraltar and Georgia games.

First-choice centre-halves John O'Shea and Marc Wilson have been sidelined and while O'Neill is sure the latter will figure when he shakes off a knock, he confessed that Sunderland's benching of O'Shea is a 'disappointment'.

Shay Given is a reserve at Stoke after his switch, and in-form alternative Keiren Westwood is a major injury doubt. "In the normal sequence of events, you would like your goalkeeper to have some first-team football," O'Neill acknowledged. On the flip side, he has noted Ciaran Clark's improvement at Aston Villa with interest.

"If three or four important players haven't played much football then that is something you really have to monitor," asserted O'Neill ahead of a double-header where anything less than six points would be a catastrophe.

Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Forde (Millwall), Given (Stoke), Westwood (Sheffield Wed),  Randolph (West Ham), Elliot (Newcastle).

Defenders: Keogh (Derby), Wilson (Stoke), Coleman (Everton), Christie (Derby), O’Shea (Sunderland), Pearce (Derby), Clark (Aston Villa), McShane (Reading), Ward (Burnley), Cunningham (Preston), Brady (Norwich).

Midfielders: McCarthy (Everton), Hendrick (Derby), Arter (Bournemouth), Whelan (Stoke), O’Kane (Bournemouth), McGeady (Everton), McClean (WBA), Judge (Brentford), Pilkington (Cardiff), Quinn (Reading), Meyler (Hull), Hoolahan (Norwich)

Strikers: Keane (LA Galaxy), Long (Southampton), Murphy (Ipswich), Walters (Stoke), Doyle (Colorado Rapids), Stokes (Celtic), McGoldrick (Ipswich), Rooney (Aberdeen), Cox (Reading).

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport