Wednesday 13 December 2017

O'Neill to call on Arter to fill McCarthy midfield void

Harry Arter: In line for competitive debut. Photo: Getty
Harry Arter: In line for competitive debut. Photo: Getty

John Fallon

Eighteen months after making his debut, Harry Arter is finally set to win his first competitive cap on Saturday when he steps in to replace James McCarthy for Ireland's World Cup qualifier in Austria.

While the 26-year-old has blossomed in the Premier League for Bournemouth, untimely injuries have punctuated his international ascent since Martin O'Neill handed him his senior bow against his homeland of England in May 2015.

Barring any late hiccups, Arter will assemble with the squad tomorrow favourite to deputise in the Ireland engine-room in Vienna for McCarthy; O'Neill says he won't be holding his breath on the Everton man being fit for the fixture.

McCarthy's groin problem, or more importantly the cause of it, has generated a spectacular public falling-out between O'Neill and his Everton counterpart Ronald Koeman but even the Derry man concedes he's planning without his first-choice midfielder.

Stephen Ward is another of O'Neill's regulars likely to miss out.

He failed to recover from a hamstring strain in time for Burnley's game against Crystal Palace yesterday, while the same ailment puts John O'Shea's availability in serious doubt. O'Neill had already lost strikers Shane Long and Daryl Murphy.

All three of Arter's caps have come in friendlies and, by flanking Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick on Saturday, his appearance will finally kill off any talk of England pouncing to try entice him into defecting from the Ireland fold.

It seems, however, O'Neill has been sufficiently impressed by the Londoner's displays this season to consider him a starter for a match in which Ireland can build upon their encouraging start to their qualifying campaign.

Currently joint-top of Group D with Serbia after three games, avoiding defeat against one of their qualification rivals would represent a positive yield heading into the new year.

"Harry is a fine player and he's been plagued by a number of injuries which have prevented him from playing for us competitively," explained O'Neill, who watched Arter in the flesh at Watford last month.

"He's forging a path again which is good and, if he can stay clear of injury, it would be great for us.

"I watched him against Watford and I told him that it wasn't his best game.

"Sometimes people get a wee bit carried away. Thankfully, Harry isn't getting carried away with all the accolades being bestowed on him.

"He's doing really well and anybody playing at what you would call the highest club level can only be good news for us.

"That's because, in that situation, the step up to international football I've spoken about is not severe."

Meanwhile, in the latest twist of O'Neill and Koeman's squabble, the Ireland manager has pointed the finger at Everton's staff for McCarthy's most recent injury setback.

The midfielder has been sidelined since featuring as a substitute against Manchester City on October 15 and while Koeman blames O'Neill for overloading the player during the international break a week previously, the Ireland manager feels the Dutchman should look closer to home.

"James's current injury is different to the previous injury so maybe Everton have to look at what they're doing," contends O'Neill.

"Everton couldn't have thought that he was overworked, otherwise they would have rested him rather than having him train that week and play a half an hour against Manchester City.

"Koeman has been very outspoken about it. He is the mouthpiece for the Everton side, as I am for the Irish side, and that's my response."

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