O'Neill to run rule over Irish defensive trio at Brighton tie
MARTIN O'NEILL will check in on three defensive options today when he takes in the FA Cup meeting of Brighton and Reading at the Amex Stadium.
Stephen Ward is set to figure for the hosts in the all-Championship clash, while Reading pair Alex Pearce and Stephen Kelly may feature although boss Nigel Adkins could look to rotate his squad for the cup encounter.
Keith Andrews could be involved for the hosts but it is unclear if the 33-year-old figures in the Irish manager's plans with younger options in that department.
Injury has deprived O'Neill of the chance to have a look at highly regarded winger Will Buckley, who has expressed interest in switching allegiance to Ireland. His former boss Gus Poyet is interested in bringing the 24-year-old to Sunderland but Buckley suffered a hamstring setback over Christmas.
O'Neill is expected to take in another game tomorrow, with his assistant Roy Keane pencilled in for Nottingham Forest's FA Cup tie with West Ham. Andy Reid, Simon Cox and Joey O'Brien could figure.
Meanwhile, Irish target Patrick Bamford is set to enjoy a higher profile after agreeing a loan move to Derby County. The Chelsea striker spent the first part of the season on-loan at MK Dons and his exploits attracted the attention of Steve McClaren, who has brought him to the promotion chasing Championship side.
Ireland U-21 boss Noel King would love to have Bamford on board. The imposing front man represented Ireland at U-18 level before returning to play for his native England and the 20-year-old recently made his English U-21 bow.
Bamford's arrival at Derby will push Conor Sammon further down the pecking order and former Rams boss Nigel Clough is interested in bringing him to Sheffield United.
The FAI have received a setback as regards their pursuit of Cork-born Shane O'Neill, who grew up in America. O'Neill, a nephew of Kerry GAA great Maurice Fitzgerald, plays for Colorado Rapids and spent a week with Fulham over the winter.
USA boss Jurgen Klinsmann has called O'Neill into a training camp which gives him an outside chance of forcing a way into their World Cup squad. Chicago Fire's Mike Magee, who Robbie Keane mentioned as a potential recruit, is also part of Klinsmann's gathering for MLS-based players.