Jeff Hendrick joins Ireland's walking wounded as injury crisis continues to escalate
The injury problems just keep on mounting up for Martin O’Neill with real concerns now over the availability of midfielder Jeff Hendrick for the rest of the season.
And the Ireland boss will also be perturbed to hear the men in charge of Aston Villa and Bournemouth state that they have no idea when Ciaran Clark and Harry Arter will be fit for duty again, injury keeping the pair out of the match-day squads for their clubs in the Premier League last weekend.
If O’Neill planned to take things easy in the week after that international double header against Switzerland and Slovakia, the fitness of some of his key players could be enough to give the Ireland boss sleepless nights.
As things stand, all five of his main strikers are out with injury, three of them (Robbie Keane, Jonathan Walters and Kevin Doyle) having undergone surgery in the last week, and even though that trio have all expressed their hopes of being fit for the finals, their chances to get in some game time before the squad link up in Dublin next month will be limited.
The injuries to Shane Long and Daryl Murphy are more short-term, though Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy has confirmed that a calf issue keeps Murphy out of contention for his club’s next two games. “Murph won’t be available for this one and he’s a doubt for Saturday as well,” said McCarthy with his eye on tonight’s game with Charlton.
The news from Derby is worse, with Hendrick likely to be out for some time.
“Jeff had a scan over the weekend and it has revealed a slight tear in his thigh muscle so he will be missing the next couple of games at least,” says Rams coach Darren Wassall.
“We’re not ruling him out for the rest of the season, we just have to see how his rehabilitation goes.” Derby have seven games left in their regular season but the Rams are likely to make the promotion play-offs, an added complication for their Irish contingent of Hendrick, Richard Keogh and Cyrus Christie.
The play-off final takes place on Saturday May 28th, the day after Ireland play Holland in the penultimate warm-up game and O’Neill says he plans to name his 23-man squad for the finals on the 28th, so Derby’s players would miss out on the chance to impress O’Neill before that date with Holland.
Hendrick played a key role in qualification and only two players (John O’Shea and Robbie Brady) played more games in the campaign.
Midfield is one area where O’Neill has options, as players like Stephen Quinn, David Meyler, Eunan O’Kane, Jonny Hayes, Anthony Pilkington and Alan Judge all played in the recent international games.
Hendrick’s injury, added to the ongoing absence of Arter at Bournemouth, will still concern O’Neill as Cherries manager Eddie Howe admitted this week that he’s unable to set a time frame for Arter’s return to fitness. Arter, yet to play in a competitive international, missed the Switzerland and Slovakia games as he needed to rest due to an Achilles problem and he has not completed 90 minutes for his club in almost six weeks.
His struggles could open the door for Meyler or Quinn to push themselves further into contention while Pilkington would also look to build on his impressive form at club level with Cardiff City to stake a claim, though Pilkington played no part in qualification.
Defender Clark also helped out on the road to France and was in contention with Richard Keogh to partner John O’Shea at centre half in June, but Clark is also now sidelined.
“Ciaran told us he was feeling his calf. We tested it during the morning but he was ruled out,” Villa caretaker boss Eric Black said as he looked back to last week’s 4-0 loss to Chelsea.
“I am hoping it won’t be too long. But we will have a better idea soon.”
Amid the gloom, the one slice of good news for O’Neill is that David McGoldrick is close to full fitness. He came off the bench to play for Ipswich last weekend, his first appearance since December, and the 27-year-old is now aiming for a strong finish to the season with his club to at least stake a claim for Euro 2016.
O’Neill handed McGoldrick his debut in 2014 but the forward has, like Arter, yet to play competitively for Ireland.