Sunday 25 February 2018

'Nobody is going to just cakewalk into this team' - Martin O'Neill

No recall yet for Ireland as O'Neill lays down the law on terms and conditions

Martin O'Neill may make significant changes to his squad for the USA part of Ireland's summer schedule
Martin O'Neill may make significant changes to his squad for the USA part of Ireland's summer schedule
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THIS was, Martin O'Neill stressed, just the first phase of his squad announcement for Ireland's summer commitments.

He presented a sheet with 32 names for discussion at FAI HQ and inevitably found himself chatting for longer about those absent from the print-out.

With no Stephen Ireland and no promotion for the short selection of young players knocking on the door, there is a shortage of obvious talking points within the provisional panel. Uncapped pair Rob Elliot and Shane Duffy have been around the camp before.

The crucial point made by the 63-year-old is that the shape of his selection could change between now and May 22 when his final party assemble in Dublin for a schedule that consists of friendlies with Turkey in the Aviva, Italy in London and Costa Rica and Portugal in the USA.

"I'm looking forward to the next meeting with you," said the Derryman at one juncture, insinuating there may be a little more to report.

Under the rules and regulations, he can chop and change and add and remove names from this list. In this context, the concluding weekend of the Premier League is relevant to the Irish boss for two reasons.

Firstly, it brings down the curtain on Stoke's campaign, which is the point where he intended to follow up on an earlier phone call and have a meeting with the Cobh-born midfielder who shares a surname with his country.


O'Neill has shown understanding of the 27-year-old's situation until this point, accepting that when they previously spoke he was still trying to get settled at Stoke.

Now that the player has penned a long-term deal and is secure in his employment, the Irish boss wants a firm answer on his intentions.

"You either feel you want to come back or you don't. It's as simple as that," said O'Neill, making it clear that he needs to know by the summer if the exiled one wishes to be a part in the road ahead.

"This is not something where you think, 'I will come back in October time'. Absolutely, this is it.

"The contract has been resolved so he has to be in a reasonably positive frame of mind," he continued, adding that he would have to be prepared to fight for his place. In other words, he would come in on management's terms.

"I will hopefully point out that if our choice may be sometimes limited, nobody is going to cakewalk into the team," stressed O'Neill before touching on how other players in the squad might react to his inclusion.

"At the meeting, there is always a bit of a wry smile when Stephen is mentioned," he said. "But the boys, listen, they all think he can play.

"I think it would be relatively easy for me as it's new. It might be a different issue if I had been involved in the first process that you're talking about (his departure in 2007).

"At the end of the day, if the players thought someone could come in and help them, and thought they were good enough to do that, I think that is all they would really worry about."

The same rationale colours O'Neill's hunt for fresh talent, although he won't throw in new faces for the sake of it.

Tomorrow, he plans to take in the Premier League showdown between Spurs and Aston Villa hoping that Paul Lambert will give teenager Jack Grealish a longer audition following his cameo at Manchester City on Wednesday night.

The Scot said yesterday that the 18-year-old has "an absolute mile to go" while asserting that the creative midfielder has a chance if he keeps the head down.

His prospective international boss preached similar caution. "Jack has been at Notts County on loan and he's definitely got ability," said O'Neill. "And these are the type of players that you hope will eventually come through."

Patience is the test. "I cannot invent new players," O'Neill asserted, pointing out that frustrated comments about the shortage of emerging talent earlier in the year were measured against the high bar of having a new face capable of matching Serbia's accomplished Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic in the March meeting at Lansdowne.

"I didn't see that at the time," he explained.

"Do I hope by the time the qualification gets under way there might be somebody to step up? Of course I do."

Intriguingly, O'Neill revealed that there could be another element to his White Hart Lane scouting trip, confirming that it came under the banner of the eligibility rules.

Spurs attacker Harry Kane, capped by England up to U-21 level, is the most plausible target with connections on his father's side. Full-back Kyle Naughton spurned approaches in the distant past. "There's a possibility of something," said O'Neill, cryptically. "But it's only at the early stages."

There are players absent from this trip that have a strong chance of featuring in the opening Euro 2016 qualifier in Georgia on September 7, which is set to be preceded by a friendly with Oman in Dublin on September 3.

Darron Gibson has only just stepped into full contact in training and O'Neill won't risk bringing him away in case that sets his recovery back.

Paul McShane could figure for Hull in their clash against Everton tomorrow and that might bring him into the picture, but Robbie Brady has a bit to go, while Andy Reid and Keiren Westwood were never in contention to make the new regime's longest get-together to date.

Sean St Ledger sent a text to O'Neill making him aware of his availability but he misses out after a catastrophic run of injuries at Leicester which led to his release yesterday. Andy Keogh was also let go by Millwall and is out of the Irish frame.

Meanwhile, Richard Dunne's desire for a rest was respected, with O'Neill repeating once again that he knows exactly what the QPR man can do. Duffy, matured by a year on loan at Yeovil, can capitalise.

Shay Given, who is temporarily assisting Lambert at Villa, must clarify his own club situation before the issue of national service is revisited.

Ireland preliminary squad Goalkeepers: D Forde (Millwall), D Randolph (Birmingham), R Elliot (Newcastle Utd); Defenders: R Keogh (Derby County), M Wilson (Stoke), S Coleman (Everton), J O'Shea (Sunderland), A Pearce (Reading), S Kelly (Reading), D Delaney (Crystal Palace), C Clark (Aston Villa), S Ward (Brighton), J O'Brien (West Ham); Midfielders: S Duffy (Everton), J McCarthy (Everton), J Hendrick (Derby County), G Whelan (Stoke ), P Green (Leeds Utd), A McGeady (Everton), A Pilkington (Norwich), J McClean (Wigan Ath), S Quinn (Hull), D Meyler (Hull), W Hoolahan (Norwich); Strikers: R Keane (LA Galaxy), S Long (Hull), D Murphy (Ipswich), J Walters (Stoke), K Doyle (QPR), A Stokes (Celtic), S Cox (Nottingham Forest), C Sammon (Derby County).

Irish Independent

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