Thursday 20 June 2019

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane set for face-to-face talks with three players in bid to restore Irish harmony

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

The Republic of Ireland management team are ready to meet key players in the coming week to restore harmony and numbers in the squad ahead of next month's Nations League home double-header against Denmark and Wales.

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane are hoping to set up face-to-face meetings with Declan Rice, Harry Arter and Stephen Ward after a difficult and controversial start to UEFA's new competition.

Rice and Arter, two English-born recruits to O'Neill's panel, both withdrew from the squad that was thrashed in Cardiff and drew in Poland. Rice said he needed more time to decide on which country to commit to after meeting England manager Gareth Southgate. Arter, it has since emerged, pulled out after a row with Keane at the end of last season.

The alleged reasons behind on-loan Cardiff City midfielder Arter's absence were revealed in a voice recording from Ward, who won his 50th cap against Wales but withdrew injured from the friendly in Wroclaw. The Burnley full-back has been left devastated by the leak of the WhatsApp message that he sent to a friend earlier this week. He has spoken and apologised to Keane, who is apparently furious. O'Neill is hoping a clear-the-air meeting between the pair will end the matter.

The Corkman is unhappy that an in-house disagreement has been revealed, particularly by a player who was not even in the squad at the time. O'Neill has also said that his assistant manager disputes Ward's version of events.

Meanwhile, O'Neill's newest recruit Matt Doherty admits he is baffled by his long wait for his first Ireland start and a competitive cap, but insists he is not ready to turn his back on his country of birth to represent the Netherlands.

Doherty, 26, qualifies for the Dutch through his mother Joni but he has laughed off the idea of making himself available for Ronald Koeman's side - which he is entitled to do as he has yet to feature in a competitive international.

The Dubliner, a former Bohemians defender, has been an ever-present under manager Nuno Espirito Santo at Wolves and made a promising start on his return to the Premier League.

O'Neill selected first-choice full-backs Seamus Coleman and Ward for the defeat in Wales, where Cyrus Christie, who has been on the bench for Fulham since starting their first game, played in midfield. Doherty was on the bench and, although he may have expected to play, he did not come on, and won his third cap in the friendly against Poland as a second-half replacement for Christie.

Speaking after his return from the international break, Doherty confirmed he is still eligible for Holland but has no intention of walking out on the Ireland squad in these turbulent times, as he continues to seek O'Neill's approval.

"I've been around the squads since 2016 but I've only picked up three caps," he said. "They are all coming off the bench for a few minutes towards the end and I'd like to have a lot more caps, a few more starts. Sometimes your face doesn't fit and mine doesn't at the moment.

"I just have to see what happens going forward. I'm ambitious and back myself to play. There's three of us going for one position. Seamus is the captain, so he's going to play. He wasn't fit the other day, so I would have liked to have played from the start but it didn't happen and that's the manager's choice.

"He's said he would like me to attack more. Maybe I'll do that. When I first joined up it was my defending that was the problem. Now it's my attacking. Maybe my face just doesn't fit. But the Netherlands is a non-starter.

"I can understand in a way where Declan Rice is coming from, because he is born in England, just like I'm born in Ireland. I know he has played at a younger age for us and I think he would probably come back to Ireland. I wouldn't be surprised if that happened.

"A lot of people disagree with how he has done it, and there is probably a better way he could have done it. But I know where he is coming from."

Wolves face Burnley at Molineux today and Ward, who picked up an ankle injury in the 4-1 defeat in Wales, is a doubt. Robbie Brady is still injured but Kevin Long and Jeff Hendrick could both feature. Doherty is glad to be back on club duty after an unusual fortnight.

"I don't know if Wardy is fit but I guess I'll see him," he said. "It's unfortunate. He's been dropped in it really and was probably just relaying what he heard to somebody else and obviously it doesn't look great on him. It doesn't look great for anybody.

"Roy Keane is quieter than people think. He's not the manager at the end of the day. People think he's always in people's face but he's not at all. It's well documented what's happened but that's not the case all the time. There are one or two situations but I've been in the squad many times and never seen that before until the summer.

"The mood is fine in the camp. It was difficult because of the stuff that had come out which obviously isn't great. Everyone gets on well together, the players and backroom staff. All the stuff that has come out, other than that there has been no real problems."

Sunday Indo Sport

The Throw-In: Dublin hurlers come of age, who will stand up for Offaly and Anthony Cunningham's unique record

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport