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O'Neill sidesteps Everton discussion as US test slips under the radar

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Martin O'Neill fields questions from the press ahead of Ireland's friendly against the USA. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Martin O'Neill fields questions from the press ahead of Ireland's friendly against the USA. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Richard Keogh beats Aiden McGeady to a header during the Irish training session in Malahide. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Richard Keogh beats Aiden McGeady to a header during the Irish training session in Malahide. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

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Martin O'Neill fields questions from the press ahead of Ireland's friendly against the USA. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

By coincidence, Martin O'Neill's pre-match press conference for tonight's Aviva Stadium encounter showdown with the USA was moved to the home of the team's primary sponsor, Three.

Appropriately, the subject matter revolved around the issue of communication. The suspicion being that the Ireland manager might have a few interesting phone discussions over the next few weeks in the aftermath of Roy Keane's forthright press appearance on Sunday.

The assistant manager raised some pertinent issues before conversation descended and, Keane being Keane, he did so in a manner which ensured that news travelled fast.

Lively

O'Neill said that he had not read the details of the Corkman's lively session with the print media but Everton chairman Bill Kenwright had already responded to the details of Keane's comments about the Merseysiders when the Irish boss sat down to discuss the American game.

Kenwright took offence to Keane's inference that pressure from Goodison Park and, specifically, manager Roberto Martinez, might be causing difficulty for the international careers of Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy.

"I'm a big fan of Roy Keane's," said Kenwright. "But he does say some stupid things. We absolutely love our players going on international duty and we never ever get in the way of them. Roberto would be as shocked as everyone is at Everton to hear Roy Keane saying that."

O'Neill was informed of that contribution and batted it to touch along with the request to elaborate on his sidekick's frustration.

"It's not my job to read the newspapers every single morning," he countered. "I'm not saying that they are more important but there are (other) issues I have to address. I might get a chance to go down and find out what was said on both sides and then I will take a view."

The 62-year-old has always spoken diplomatically on Everton affairs during an autumn where speculation surrounding Coleman and McCarthy's well-being have become repetitive. It is clear that, putting himself back in the mindset of a club manager, he believes that the Toffees have benefited from his treatment of their key men.

Keane's venting of grievances could be construed as a public demand for Everton to give a little bit back.

"I haven't picked up on Roy's comments," stressed O'Neill. "I'll get back to what I say. I was a club manager before. The last thing you want is players playing in a game when you thought they might not be ready. It's as simple as that.

"Before Gibraltar and Germany, I had spoken to Seamus and Seamus just wasn't right. I didn't speak to James then. At this particular time, James does have a muscle injury, he came here, he was wanting to try it and really wanted to give it a go.

"We always thought time would be against us and I think he will be perfectly alright to play at the weekend for his club. I last spoke to Roberto last Monday, I haven't spoken to him since.

"He should be pretty pleased as Seamus might not start tomorrow evening although he might play and James will be back fit for the weekend. As a club manager, he should be pretty pleased about that."

The Irish supremo was placed in a slightly more difficult spot by Keane's observation that Jack Grealish's father was the problem in the teenager's deliberation on his national allegiance.

"What do you mean by helpful?" replied O'Neill, when it was put to him that the theory - which the youngster was made aware of via social media - could prove to have the opposite effect in the bigger picture.

Additions

"I spoke to the two of them and Jack's father and Jack were not in any great hurry at that particular time to make their minds up - fine, absolutely. I left it entirely up to them," continued O'Neill. "Now at the end of it all, if Jack pulls out of the Under-21s and wants to concentrate on his club football, good luck to him, good luck to him. He (Keane) made the point, has he not? What do you want me to say? Seriously, what do you want me to go and do?"

His exasperation was a consequence of a tetchy exchange and, later on, he introduced the subject of the prodigy again in more conciliatory terms even if the words read stronger than that. In terms of players coming in, it would be great to have them. If you are asking about young Grealish, it would be nice to have someone like that on board.

"I have said to you - and I don't need Roy Keane for this, I don't need to tell me - but I'm not going to go and chase him. I'm not chasing him. I've spoken to Jack's father and it's up to them, it's as simple as that."

Grealish added yet another cryptic element to the story last night when he tweeted: "Whatever you do whether it's posting a tweet or making a life changing decision you're going to get judged, so at the end of the day do what makes you and your loved ones happy".

Tonight, O'Neill does have two new additions to introduce to the fold. Derby's Cyrus Christie and Ipswich's David McGoldrick will start in the United States joust that has become a sub-plot to the main drama of the Scottish post-mortem.

In a strange way, match day has provided some form of escape for the Irish management team from the noise. They can do all their talking within the four walls of the hotel and the dressing room before heading to the stadium with a view to speeding up the process of getting over their Celtic Park disappointment.

O'Neill's reflections on Friday have not really changed.

"I thought the game was disrupted, it was interrupted by fouls, a stop start game. You would expect Scotland as the home side, to have more of the ball, but statistically speaking they didn't have that much more," he reasoned.

"The main statistic in the match is that they won 1-0. I thought we might have defended that situation a little bit better. But it's gone now.

"I think regardless of that, if the game had ended up being a draw, we still have to win the game at home. I think everything just depends on what happens in our home matches. Overall I wasn't so sure that Scotland caused all the problems we thought they might do."

The one area of the Scottish fixture which the manager did not wish to explore was his decision to bench his skipper Robbie Keane who was given permission to miss this fixture and return to Los Angeles ahead of their season climax.

He was more forthcoming on McGoldrick, a player who could well adopt the 'number 10' role this evening, as a link between midfield and attack.

O'Neill indicated that the newcomer might allow his unit to function in an alternative fashion to Friday and added that his Ipswich colleague Daryl Murphy will figure at some juncture in an attempt to bring their successful partnership to this sphere.

"It's a big statement for me to make but I think he (McGoldrick) can be very good for us," asserted O'Neill.

At the end of his first year in the hot-seat, O'Neill is keen to finish on a positive note, stressing that seven points from 12 is a decent tally and Ireland remain viable qualification contenders.

"There's a massive disappointment at this minute because we didn't get something from Friday," he said.

"But I'm sorry lads, it's not gloom, doom and despair. We've got everything to play for in 2015. That's the case, absolutely."

A convincing display at a venue where Ireland must improve will write its own story.

Irish Independent