Loss of Coleman and Brady a blow for O'Neill
Arter returns after chat with Keane as manager bemoans injury list
IT was lost in the Declan Rice circus that followed but Martin O'Neill is already on the back foot for the crunch UEFA Nations League double-header with Denmark and Wales after the confirmation that Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady will be unavailable.
But Harry Arter has returned to the frame with the Ireland manager stating that the Cardiff player had spoken with Roy Keane and was happy to return after the aftermath of their summer row led to the midfielder opting out of September's matches.
"I think the conversation between the two of them went excellently," said the 66-year-old who indicated that Arter might be returning with a point to prove. "My conversation with Harry was straightforward: prove people wrong. Prove us all wrong at the end of the day."
However, he stopped short of confirming that Arter would come into his starting side, while acknowledging that his match fitness puts him in a stronger position than several other squad members.
The loss of Coleman, his captain, is a major blow. He suffered a stress fracture in his foot on international duty last month. The early vibes were good but the Everton player has met trouble on the comeback trail and is unlikely to return until the end of the month.
Similarly, Brady felt he was on course for a comeback after ten months on the sidelines but he has met with another setback at Burnley, with Turf Moor boss Sean Dyche confirming that a hamstring tweak has halted the player's progress.
Stephen Ward was not included in the 32-man panel either as he is dealing with a recurring knee problem.
O'Neill said that the furore caused by his leaked WhatsApp audio was not a factor in his exclusion; the Dubliner's only Burnley outing since the last international break came in the League Cup.
The long-term loss of Jonathan Walters is a further setback, with O'Neill referencing his own woe in acknowledging that Christian Eriksen's likely absence for the Danish game is a "boost" for Ireland.
He is conscious that Ireland require positive results from these games to lift the mood around the camp, although he does not like the grouping of the last two competitive outings - the 5-1 loss to Denmark and last month's 4-1 defeat in Cardiff - because they are ten months apart.
"Listen, we are in a competitive business, aren't we," he said. "We are in the managerial business trying to get results at the end of the day - regardless of who you are playing and what you are playing in.
"So let's try to get a couple of results - that's what I am hoping for. I have been under pressure since I became a manager in 1990-'91, I have always been under pressure."
On the plus side, James McClean is back available after a sub appearance for Stoke on Tuesday, albeit with the aid of a cast that might also be required for Irish service.
Seán Maguire has been named in the panel even though he hasn't featured for Preston this term. He may make the bench for the club tomorrow and that could open the door for a trip to Ireland but it might just be for training purposes.
In-form Sheffield United attacker David McGoldrick is being monitored and will be considered for November if he manages to maintain an injury-free run.
O'Neill conceded that the shortage of goalscoring options is a concern. Aiden O'Brien fared well in Poland but has dropped to the bench at Millwall, while Graham Burke has failed to make an impact with Preston.
He does at least have alternative options in Coleman's position.
Wolves' Matt Doherty has arguably been the form Irish player of the entire season in England and Coleman's difficulty could provide him with an opportunity.
Doherty was bemused to find himself behind Cyrus Christie in Poland and is known to be frustrated by his limited opportunities at international level. He was quoted as saying that it's possible his face does not fit with the current regime.
However, O'Neill had also urged Doherty to improve on his attacking play and feels the 26-year-old has taken it on board.
"I think Matt might actually listen and that's really important for me to tell him what I think about his game," said O'Neill.
"First of all if you're playing right-back in a side...Matt played left-back for ages and ages and never got close enough to players to close them down. If you're playing left-back, the first job I was told, is to defend, be able to defend and stop crosses from coming in and get a foot in.
"Matt is playing as a wing-back now and that is suiting Matt down to the ground. He's getting forward and it's great. What I was saying to him - and I said it the night before the Poland game - is when you're left with one on one, he's got the ability to go past the person so make something happen there. "
"We may still play three at the back against Denmark, we might do that. But naturally I am pleased if anyone is playing in the big league - that has to be good news."
Richie Towell receives his first senior call after a run of matches at Championship level with loan club Rotherham. O'Neill did say that he would prefer not to be in a position where a run of games in that sphere was enough to put a player in contention.
"I would be hoping in the long term that wouldn't be enough to warrant a place in the national side but, at this minute, we have a few problems with players," he said.
That is an understatement.
Ireland squad to face Wales and Denmark
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough), Colin Doyle (Hearts), Sean McDermott (Kristiansund BK)
Defenders: Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Matt Doherty (Wolves), Shane Duffy (Brighton), Richard Keogh (Derby), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle), Kevin Long (Burnley), John Egan, Enda Stevens (Sheff Utd), Darragh Lenihan, Derrick Williams (Blackburn), Greg Cunningham (Cardiff City)
Midfielders: Alan Judge (Brentford), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Alan Browne (Preston), Shaun Williams (Millwall), David Meyler (Reading), Harry Arter (Cardiff City*), Daryl Horgan (Hibernian), Callum O'Dowda (Bristol City), James McClean (Stoke City), Richie Towell (Rotherham*)
Forwards: Shane Long (Southampton), Graham Burke, Callum Robinson, Sean Maguire (Preston North End), Aiden O'Brien (Millwall), Scott Hogan (Aston Villa), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth)
*indicates player is on loan