Martin O'Neill demands commitment from Ireland's new boys
Martin O'Neill says he wants assurances from dual-eligibility players that they are serious about having a career with the Republic of Ireland, and are not just settling for second best, before he hands out caps.
O'Neill returns to one of his old haunts today, taking charge of a Republic of Ireland XI for Scott Brown's testimonial against Celtic at Parkhead (2.0), a rare trip back to Paradise for the man who has tended to stay away since he left the club in 2005.
The involvement of Irish players in the Championship play-off final, and a holiday for some of the Republic's players in the Premier League, leaves him with a patched-up squad for the Parkhead game, which is not a recognised international so no caps will be awarded.
Former or current League of Ireland players Conor O'Malley, Shaun Williams and Graham Burke will get to work with the senior squad for the first time, while there will also be a first sighting in a green jersey of Preston forward Callum Robinson.
"To score for your country is one of the best feelings ever, no matter what level it is," Robinson said when he scored in an under 19 international against Montenegro in 2014. But he was talking about England as the then-Aston Villa forward was a regular at youth level for his native country. Since then he has declared for Ireland, eligible via a Monaghan-born grandmother, and given the dearth of options up front, he could emerge as a real player for O'Neill, once the paperwork related to his 'defection' from England has been cleared by FIFA.
O'Neill has to regularly fight battles over the Republic's contentious recruitment of players from Northern Ireland and he's keen to stress that any new arrival on the scene via the parentage rule, like newcomer Robinson, has to want to play for this country.
"The first time I spoke to him was a week ago when I said I was bringing him into the squad and he was delighted with that so it's up to him," says O'Neill. "I'd have to sit down with him and find out his reasons for changing. If his reason for changing was that he thought he had an easier chance of getting a game, rather than wanting to play, that might be an issue.
"At the end of it all that will stand them in some sort of stead when they do pull on the shirt, whether they really want to do that or not. I'd like to talk to him about it: what's your view, you were playing for England so why do you want to go and change your mind about it?
"Let's be fair, there will be players who feel they have no chance of playing for England but if I can qualify for another country there's a chance of me playing international football, and I don't just want to throw caps away. But this is an opportunity in a non-competitive game, it's not even an international match, let's take a look at him."
The Ireland boss is also keen for a heart-to-heart with Harry Arter, who struggled at Bournemouth for most of last season and may be in need of a move away this summer. "I don't want to be going into a group of games at the start of next season, players not having participated," he says. "I will make concessions for certain players where I think, 'he has certain ability but it's just a bit of tough luck at his club'. But if he's not been playing for a long time, he'd have to have a look at it. He might think, 'This [Bournemouth] is where I want to be and I will fight for my place'. But if there are reasons, if they consider him now not good enough to play for the side, then that's something he has to look at."
The Republic's boss has cut his provisional 40-strong squad down to an 18-man panel for today's testimonial.
Apart from Seamus Coleman, David Meyler, James McClean and Jon Walters, the senior players in the squad have been given more time off before they report for duty ahead of Monday week's friendly away to France, so there is that first involvement at senior level for O'Malley (Peterborough), Williams (Millwall), Robinson (Preston) and Burke (Shamrock Rovers).
O'Neill has arranged with Burke's club that he could play for the Hoops away to Sligo Rovers last night and travel to Scotland this morning to hook up with the senior panel.
Ireland squad v Celtic
Goalkeepers: Doyle (Bradford), O'Malley (Peterborough).
Defenders: Coleman (Everton), Lenihan, D Williams (both Blackburn), Egan (Brentford), Stevens (Sheffield United), Doherty (Wolves)
Midfielders: O'Dowda (Bristol City), Meyler (Hull City), O'Kane (Leeds United), S Williams (Millwall), Browne (Preston), McClean (West Brom)
Forwards: Walters (Burnley), Maguire, Robinson (both Preston), Burke (Shamrock Rovers)
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