McCarthy and Clark add to O'Neill's concerns
The first official engagement of a huge year for Martin O'Neill takes place this morning when he names his squad for the World Cup qualifier with Wales.
But he could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu with a major talking point from the tail end of 2016 carrying over into the latest stage of the road to Russia.
James McCarthy found himself in the centre of a club v country row in the autumn when Ronald Koeman raged at Ireland's decision to call up the Glaswegian when he was suffering fitness problems at club level.
And the 26-year-old is now a major doubt for the March 24 encounter at the Aviva Stadium because he is still not 100 per cent.
Koeman seems resigned to the fact that McCarthy will be summoned by Ireland, with FIFA regulations supporting Ireland's right to do so, but the bottom line is that the energetic midfielder will not be of much use to either manager until he gets a clear run of matches.
He has started just eight Premier League games this term in addition to a contentious pair of Irish outings in the October double-header with Georgia and Moldova.
The player then missed the spirited win in Vienna in November with another ailment and his hamstring remains a problem.
"We need to deal with his fitness," said Koeman. "He played 30-35 minutes last week and then we need to put him in the recovery group after the game.
"That's what we need to learn; I'm not a doctor but what I'd like is the best for him. It's another step back for the boy and that's really disappointing. We need to find a solution."
Koeman does expect McCarthy to answer a call if it comes. "The FIFA rule is that they have the possibility to call the player. If they call the player, the player will go and they will see how his fitness is at that time."
It sounds as though it would be a gamble to bank on him.
Ireland did the business in Vienna with a depleted midfield. Harry Arter's first competitive start was complicated by an early injury to Glenn Whelan but the Bournemouth man and David Meyler were strong in a game where Jeff Hendrick also featured. The Derryman does have options in that department.
In truth, it's the well-being of his centre-halves that will be troubling the Irish boss most. Ciaran Clark (below) was forced off in Newcastle's loss to Fulham where he sustained a knock to his knee and he's waiting on scan results.
O'Neill is definitely without Shane Duffy who has a broken metatarsal and Richard Keogh has missed Derby's last four outings with a calf complaint.
That means John O'Shea is the only one of his preferred options that's fully fit.
Meanwhile, the FAI have declined to comment on criticism from Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill about the recruiting of players at underage level. O'Neill said it was 'terrible' that Derry's Aaron McEneff switched allegiance midway through an U-21 campaign last year and argues that the FAI are taking players 'for the sake of it'.
McEneff's younger brother Jordan - who is currently at Arsenal - has also opted for the Republic.