Monday 20 November 2017

Martin O'Neill leaves door open for Damien Delaney's Ireland return

John Fallon

Martin O’Neill has tonight left the door open on an international comeback for Damien Delaney ahead of Euro 2016.

Apart from John O’Shea, the Crystal Palace man is the only Irish centre-back playing regularly in the Premier League and the recent injury to Marc Wilson highlighted the paucity of depth in that department as the Euros loom in June.

The 34-year-old won the last of his nine caps in the May 2014 friendly against Turkey, his only game-time under the tenure of O’Neill and Roy Keane.

Delaney then publicly announced his retirement from international football in August 2015, admitting he “disagreed on certain aspects” with O’Neill.

The matter resurfaced at the weekend following comments by his club boss Alan Pardew suggesting Delaney “would swallow his pride” and make himself available.

Speaking as a pundit on TV3’s UEFA Champions League coverage tonight, O’Neill refused to dismiss the possibility of the player returning to the fold but stressed the desire must come from Delaney’s side.

“It’s an interesting one with Damien,” the Ireland manager explained. “Gosh, I’m in charge a couple of years but the summer before last, we had a collection of players together and a trip to America.

“Damien played in match before that against Turkey but I think he felt he was never going to be first choice at the time and declined to go to America. I mean that didn’t auger too well.

“He said he’d make himself available if he’d a decent chance of getting into the squad or the team but I wasn’t in a position to actually make those decisions. I couldn’t guarantee anybody in the side. So we went our separate ways then.

“Don’t get me wrong, Damien has had an excellent season at Crystal Palace.

“He is on the wrong side of 30. He hasn’t played that many competitive games for the Republic of Ireland throughout his career.

“But I have to say the way we are in terms of centre-halves, if we get a few more injuries, I certainly couldn’t rule out anything,” before concluding “particularly if players have an interest in playing.”

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