Friday 25 May 2018

Martin O'Neill keeping tabs on Michael Obafemi as Ireland boss reiterates youth policy for year ahead

Michael Obafemi and (inset) Martin O'Neill
Michael Obafemi and (inset) Martin O'Neill
Daryl Murphy. Photo: PA

Colin Young

Martin O'Neill has vowed to give youth a chance after Daryl Murphy became the first of the Republic of Ireland's senior players to announce his retirement from international football after their unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign

"Daryl did really well in the couple of years that I worked with him in the international set-up and he was always very professional," said O'Neill of the 34-year-old, who made his senior debut in 2007, and made 33 appearances.

Before he names his next squad for the March friendly in Turkey, O'Neill will speak to other senior members like Glenn Whelan, Jon Walters and John O'Shea, but he is not expecting a widespread exodus.

"Do you know what, I think I really would have to talk to them about it," he said. "I don't think those players, regardless of what age they are, would contemplate retirement too easily. I will talk to them. I think there is time now to do that. Regardless of whether they do or not, we are looking at a younger element going to the game in Turkey."

O'Neill intends to push ahead with a rebuilding programme, but says it may come too soon for Michael Obafemi - if he chooses to play for Ireland. The 17-year-old Dublin-born Southampton striker has played for Ireland's Under-19 team and will have to choose whether to continue his development with the Irish set-up or turn to Nigeria, the country of his parents' birth, or wait for England, who are now taking a keen interest.

Obafemi's surprise appearance in Southampton's draw with Tottenham last weekend prompted the questions about his passport and international allegiance, and he has played in England underage get-togethers too. Declan Rice's emergence at West Ham has also attracted the English scouts, which is another issue O'Neill must consider. "With Obafemi, I think we have to look at these things," said O'Neill. "When somebody comes to the fore and gets on for a little while, I know these surges have happened before but yeah, we're keeping an eye on him.

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"We have this little opportunity. If we had qualified for the World Cup, we might have had a different approach to the next couple of months and if that was the case, we would have used the games against Turkey and France to finalise a little group of people who would have got us there in the first place and then, perhaps, room for somebody like a young lad coming through.

"But now, this opportunity is there for us to, and I hate to use the word experiment, because you still want to try and win the games, but I think it's the opportunity for us. We've got Turkey in March to look at younger lads, but also other lads who've only one or two caps. So let's have a look and see who comes through from injury.

"You just want to have a look at some younger players, I mean maybe 24, 25, 26, who may not have many caps, because eventually when he get to this, we've got another game against France, difficult matches that we've chose. But you might have to call on these lads in September, October, November which we'll most likely will do."

The friendly against France will be a more serious proposition for O'Neill, who will have an eye on the start of the Nations League by then.

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