Saturday 24 March 2018

Personnel issues set a new test for O’Neill

Arter's withdrawal adds to manager's injury problems

Once again, Ireland and O’Neill will have to find strength from adversity. Picture credit: David Maher / Sportsfile
Once again, Ireland and O’Neill will have to find strength from adversity. Picture credit: David Maher / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In football, there is a common assumption that continuity in selection can lead to success.

However, Martin O'Neill's Ireland are ready to test that theory in a World Cup campaign that has been complicated by injuries and suspensions.

The picture for Friday's World Cup qualifier started to become clear last night.

A snap of Harry Arter on a Bournemouth flight to Dubai earlier in the day confirmed his unavailability. He has suffered a calf problem and is going on their warm weather break to work on his rehab.

It means that Ireland will be without at least four key members of the team that did the business in Vienna in November, with Robbie Brady suspended and centre-halves Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy on the sidelines.

Wes Hoolahan is also a major doubt due to a thigh injury sustained on Championship duty against Barnsley on Saturday and has remained at Norwich for treatment.

As it happens, the side that grabbed an unlikely three points in Vienna was a patched-up operation, even more so when Glenn Whelan limped off to be replaced by David Meyler in the first-half.


That mission was completed without Shane Long, James McCarthy, Stephen Ward and Daryl Murphy - four members of the team that finished Euro 2016 as first-choice picks.

O'Neill has been unable to pick from the same hand since then, with personnel issues causing far more problems than they did in his first campaign in charge.

Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, James McClean and Jonathan Walters are the only players to start every game that are in contention to do so against the Welsh.

Central defence has been the talking point over the past fortnight, but O'Neill does have the option of reuniting the John O'Shea and Richard Keogh pairing that kicked things off in Belgrade.

Midfield is where the uncertainty lies, with Brady and Arter out, and uncertainty hanging over the participation of Hoolahan and James McCarthy, who were both included in a revised 28-man panel.

Injury has also ruled out Rob Elliot, Paul McShane, Liam Kelly and David McGoldrick. McCarthy is due in for assessment today.

Anthony Pilkington, Darron Gibson, Stephen Gleeson, Matt Doherty and Adam Rooney were cut from the provisional list.

For a home game where Ireland need to get on the front foot, a combination of Whelan, Meyler and Jeff Hendrick would not exactly scream positivity.

Hendrick is certainly effective going forward, but choosing between Whelan and Meyler would be preferable to sending out a side containing both - much as Gareth Bale's tendency to roam into the area in front of the Irish back four will pose a significant challenge.

Aiden McGeady already has a strong chance of involvement for the showdown on account of his outstanding form with Preston, yet a process of elimination is also putting him in the equation.

However, O'Neill did say last week that he still feels the Glaswegian is more effective cutting in from a wide berth.

Daryl Horgan, the Airtricity League Player of the Year for 2016, hailed his Preston team-mate after collecting the gong and knows he is behind the 30-year-old in the pecking order.

"Aiden has been unreal," stated Horgan.

"He's got that bit of confidence that maybe he hasn't had in a while. He has thrived on it and he has been our best player.

"We are delighted to have him at Preston, but he definitely could play at a higher level."

The bottom line is that the turbulence through the first phase of the Russian mission failed to upset O'Neill's dressing room. If anything, it galvanised them and the resolution of the Irish group has played a big part in collecting 10 points from 12.

Gareth Bale's difficulties were the main recurring story in the lengthy build-up, but, as O'Neill said last night, it's the Welsh that arrive with the cleanest bill of health

Once again, Ireland and O'Neill will have to find strength in adversity.

Ireland Squad v Wales and Iceland

Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph, Keiren Westwood, Colin Doyle

Defenders: Seamus Coleman, Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, Alex Pearce, John O'Shea, Andy Boyle, John Egan, Stephen Ward

Midfielders: Aiden McGeady, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady, Conor Hourihane, David Meyler, Eunan O'Kane, Wes Hoolahan, James McClean, Jonathan Hayes, Daryl Horgan, Callum O'Dowda

Forwards: Jonathan Walters, Shane Long, Daryl Murphy, Kevin Doyle

Indo Sport

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