Sunday 22 September 2019

Martin O'Neill insists it's too soon to worry about Gareth Bale as he sets sights on France

Callum O'Dowda during Republic of Ireland training at Stade de France in Paris, France. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Callum O'Dowda during Republic of Ireland training at Stade de France in Paris, France. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Martin O'Neill says it's way too early to worry about the danger that Champions League hero Gareth Bale can pose to the Republic of Ireland in the next batch of qualifiers as the focus for the Ireland boss this week is on the double header against France and the USA.

But the Ireland squad has been hit with another injury problem ahead of Monday's date with France in Paris as Jeff Hendrick is out of the squad while harry Arter is unlikely to start as he works on his fitness.

Bale is the toast of Europe after his two goals in Saturday's Champions League final win over Liverpool, his form an omen for Ireland ahead of the next competitive international, away to Wales in September, but O'Neill says the Irish side will be ready.

"We are a long way off at the moment," O'Neill said of the Wales clash next season.

"He comes on as a sub in the 60th minute, by the 64th minute he is already celebrating a wonderful goal, almost fitting that it should be in the Champions League final, you'll not get many better than that. As we have been saying for a long, long time he is a world class footballer, he may well have been disappointed not to start the game but even so his contribution in the last half hour was sensational.

"We played against him in Dublin, where we had the unfortunate injury to Seamus [Coleman] in that game and while we shackled him reasonably well in the game he had one run and that's the problem with world class players, you can't keep him shackled for the whole game but by the time we get around to meeting them we will be ready for him," added O'Neill.

The Irish squad was already missing players like Darren Randolph, Ciaran Clark and Sean Maguire for the France game but Hendrick has also now left the camp, with a back injury, but Callum O'Dowda is fit despite sitting out the squad's last training session in Dublin.

O'Neill also admitted that the absence of Stephen Ward for this double header has opened the door for some other player to stake a claim at left back, though O'Neill says he has yet to decide on a formation for the Stade de France game, with the option of a three-man defence as used in the last game, away to Turkey.

O'Neill says there's no question of the Republic taking a relaxed attitude in the French game.

"We are unable to take things easy, it will be a big test for us with France going to the World Cup," he said at the pre-match press conference in the Stade  de France.

"It's a big preparation game for them, it's great preparation for us for the Euro League coming up in September and October and November. a big game for the number of inexperienced players we have in the squad."

Meanwhile, Seamus Coleman says he's already looking forward to next season and proving that he can achieve the levels he enjoyed before his serious injury.

Coleman, who will captain Ireland against France in Monday night's friendly in Paris, spent 10 months on the sideline after a leg break sustained in Ireland's World Cup qualifier at home to Wales. He had a strong finish to the season with Everton and has also resumed his international career, featuring in the loss away to Turkey in March, and he's keen to prove that he's still the same player.

“I think you’ll always be compared to before the injury now but I feel good, I feel fine," Coleman said in Paris on Sunday, ahead of the Irish squad's training session at the Stade de France.

"I’ve played a lot of games, I’ve felt at club level I’ve been getting forward every bit as much as I had been.

"I probably had a few chances to score that I’m a little bit disappointed with. But all in all, my fitness is good," he added, looking ahead to next term.

"Pre-season will help me massively, the more games I get, the better. I’m not going to be one of them players who looks back looking for excuses, ‘I’m not quite fit yet.’ I’m back, I’ve got my boots on, I’m happy and I just want to keep improving."

The Everton star will be one of only a handful of Premier League players in the Ireland side which goes up a French squad which has the option of resting big names like Antonie Griezmann and Paul Pogba, France preparing for the World Cup finals.

Martin O'Neill said at his pre-match press conference that he has yet to decide on whether to play a flat back four or try out the three-man defence which featured against Turkey.

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