Wednesday 13 December 2017

'The lads are there on merit but you need time to adjust' - O'Neill

O’Neill makes no promises Dundalk duo will make final cut

Dundalk’s Andy Boyle (L) and Daryl Horgan – who were both included in Ireland’s provisional squad to face Austria – are pictured in St Petersburg ahead of tonight’s Europa League clash against Zenit. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Dundalk’s Andy Boyle (L) and Daryl Horgan – who were both included in Ireland’s provisional squad to face Austria – are pictured in St Petersburg ahead of tonight’s Europa League clash against Zenit. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Five keepers, four strikers and two League of Ireland players.

It's safe to assume that when Martin O'Neill took over as Ireland manager three years ago this week, he didn't envisage naming a squad with that profile.

Martin O’Neill announced a 35-man squad yesterday. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Martin O’Neill announced a 35-man squad yesterday. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Much has changed in the intervening period and his provisional panel for Saturday week's crucial World Cup qualifier with Austria certainly threw up a few more talking points than some of his recent long lists.

The presence of Dundalk duo Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle grabbed the headlines and it is deserved reward for the European breakthrough that has placed the Louth club in an entirely different light.

Any excitement should be countered by the fact that we've been here before - albeit not with locally based players.

But Chris Forrester, Conor Hourihane, Alan Judge and Adam Rooney all enjoyed the plaudits of a first call and the publicity requests that went with it before finding out that they had actually missed the final cut.

Therefore, the dream will only become real for Horgan and Boyle if they are summoned to report for duty at the beginning of next week. Hourihane is on the 35-man panel too waiting for a better outcome than last month.

RECOGNITION

O'Neill views the recognition as a pat on the back, even if he made it clear that the pair have a way to travel before proving they are ready to step into the heat of a World Cup 2018 qualifier.

The reality is that the Austrian game will be contested by the tried and trusted, and the absence of a friendly in this window has removed scope for experimentation.

And despite watching a lot of Dundalk this term - mostly in the Europa League - O'Neill admits that there's an element of the unknown about pitching players like Horgan and Boyle into the international scene.

After all, some Championship players have found it hard to adjust. And O'Neill has watched other English-based performers and concluded they wouldn't be up to it without even bringing them in to train.

He confessed that the difficulty with League of Ireland players is wondering why they haven't got the opportunity across the water.

"Dundalk have been playing against pretty decent European sides now for a little while, I think that's good preparation," he stressed.

"You look at that game between Dundalk and Cork (which he attended on October 11). The pitch at Oriel Park is not the best but you look at the game and you're always trying to decide whether players can step up.

"This is it. I'm not running a kindergarten you know. You're looking for as many ready-made players to play international football.

"Other clubs are supposed to do that (test their credentials). You look at some of the players, they took young (Richie) Towell on - scored a lot of goals last season - and he doesn't play for Brighton.

"Those kind of things are semi set-backs. I know he's injured at the minute but it's taken him a long time. Hopefully he can drive on and get through that initial period of something new to him and become the player we think he can be.

"Sometimes you have to take a bit of time to adjust. International football doesn't really give you the time to do that.

"But do I think the two lads I have chosen are here on merit? On outfield performances, when he picks up the ball, you'd have to say Horgan definitely does and while we've got a number of centre-halves at this moment that we've relied on recently, I think Boyle deserves to be in."

O'Neill speaks to Stephen Kenny and has heard reports of Boyle's leadership qualities, which strengthened the claims of a player who tends to slip under the radar. Horgan was always likely to be included; fixture congestion prevented him from getting the nod for Georgia and Moldova.

In the context of discussing Boyle, the former Sunderland manager did stress that Brentford's John Egan, who was learning the ropes at youth level during his time at the Stadium of Light, was in consideration.

A summer move to Brentford has propelled the Cork lad - the son of Kerry GAA great John - to another level after he used a stint at Gillingham to rebuild an injury-interrupted career.

His club colleague Scott Hogan has attracted more attention this year but there's no progress on that front, with O'Neill indicating that the English-born striker will wait until the new year before confirming his international intentions.

Right now, he badly needs forwards. The unavailability of Shane Long and Daryl Murphy and the retirement of Robbie Keane has exposed the absence of strength in depth.

ALTERNATIVES

Jon Walters is certain to take on a central role, with Kevin Doyle, the uncapped Rooney and fit-again David McGoldrick as the alternatives.

They are outnumbered by goalkeeping options, with Bradford's Colin Doyle - who won his only cap on Steve Staunton's US tour in 2007 - joining Danny Rogers and Ian Lawlor in the race for third choice behind Darren Randolph and Keiren Westwood.

The early days of the gathering might allow O'Neill to examine fresh faces but, as the week progresses, the serious business in Vienna will dominate his thoughts.

He will attend Sunday's FAI Cup final, but he could be forgiven for occasionally checking his phone, with updates on James McCarthy, John O'Shea and Stephen Ward likely to have a influence on his starting selection.

Still, Horgan and Boyle have come a long way in a short time to find themselves as part of the broader discussion.

Provisional Ireland Squad (v Austria)

Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (West Ham Utd), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Colin Doyle (Bradford City), Ian Lawlor (Manchester City), Danny Rogers (Falkirk*)

Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, Alex Pearce (Derby County), John O'Shea (Sunderland), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle Utd), Paul McShane (Reading), Shane Duffy (Brighton), Andy Boyle (Dundalk), Stephen Ward (Burnley)

Midfielders: Aiden McGeady (Preston North End*), James McClean (West Brom), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), James McCarthy (Everton), Stephen Quinn (Reading), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Harry Arter (Bournemouth), Eunan O'Kane (Leeds Utd), David Meyler (Hull City), Stephen Gleeson (Birmingham City), Conor Hourihane (Barnsley), Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City), Callum O'Dowda (Bristol City), Jonathan Hayes (Aberdeen), Daryl Horgan (Dundalk)

Forwards: Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Adam Rooney (Aberdeen), Kevin Doyle (Colorado Rapids), David McGoldrick (Ipswich Town)

*Indicates player is currently on loan

Irish Independent

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