Saturday 20 January 2018

Martin O'Neill warns that long haul flights are hampering Robbie Keane

Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile

John Fallon

Martin O'Neill has admitted Robbie Keane's long-haul flights from Los Angeles are impairing his ability to recover from injuries.

Ireland's record goalscorer and captain will miss Tuesday's game against Slovakia with the same knee complaint which kept him out of Friday night's win over Switzerland in the first part of the Easter double-header friendly.

The LA Galaxy forward hasn't started a game for Ireland since being substituted at half-time in the win over Georgia last September. His only action in the subsequent five games has been an appearance off the bench for the injured Shane Long in the defeat to Poland.

That leaves Keane with just one guaranteed warm-up against Holland on May 27 before O'Neill finalises his 23-man squad for the European Championships.

Although the 35-year-old is no longer his first-choice striker, O'Neill has constantly talked up the value of Keane's off-the-field contribution, especially the experience he imparts to colleagues around crunch games like those against Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the campaign run-in.

Competition for the striker slots, however, is among the fiercest in the panel and should Kevin Doyle recover from the nasty leg wound he suffered after an impressive international return on Friday, it may be a marginal call between the two stalwarts for O'Neill to make.

"Robbie stayed out of the training this week because the little problem with the knee didn't seem to be getting any better," revealed O'Neill.

"I think that he feels that this is not a long-term thing but he was just slightly concerned because he thought he was over it. Of course, then he had the flight as well. It's a long flight, he's just stepped off the plane and maybe that didn't give it a chance to settle. I don't want to be scaremongering. Robbie comes in generally after a day's flight. He's as good a trainer and as enthusiastic as anybody. He is our captain, our best goalscorer and is good around the place."

With Keane, Doyle, Daryl Murphy and Jonathan Walters all ruled out on Tuesday, it leaves O'Neill with Shane Long as his sole orthodox striker.

Last night, he was deliberating over whether to draft in replacements, with Anthony Stokes favourite to receive a late call should the manager feel the need for reinforcements.

Irrespective, O'Neill will shuffle his pack with a view to broadening his options for the Euros squad.

"I will make quite a number of changes for Tuesday," he said. "The likes of James McClean and John O'Shea will start. Though he played very well, l can't see Ciaran Clark or Shane Duffy playing. I need have to have a look at some other centre-halves."

Meanwhile, O'Neill has once again highlighted his concerns about the quality of talent emerging from the underage ranks to challenge for senior slots.

He and his assistant Roy Keane were in the crowd on Thursday at the Waterford RSC where Ireland's under 21s lost their third game in a row, this time a 4-1 humbling by Italy.

Of the candidates from the squad, Jack Byrne made his mark while training with the senior panel for three days last week but, for all the strides he's made on loan in Holland with SC Cambuur, he remains short on competitive experience. Byrne was just one of four Irish-born players to start for Noel King's side.

"Looking at the under 21s, they have definitely got a bit of work to do," O'Neill said. "Sometimes losing the games doesn't bother me as much as the performance of individuals. That is what I am looking at.

"Naturally, Noel King would look at it in a different light, he wants to qualify. It would be nice for them to be going to the competitions but overall it is the quality of the individual performances that I am looking at. As for the players not born in Ireland, it is more of a long-term concern, if that is the right word to use.

"That is something we are trying to address. It would be nice to think that in the next couple of years that all the players playing here are born and bred in the Republic but, in the meantime, if these are the certain rules and there is players from other nations dipping into the same sort of thing then I suppose maybe you would have to use that."

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