Thursday 22 March 2018

O'Neill backs Hoolahan to shine in date with destiny

Norwich's Wes Hoolahan could boost the EPL representation in the Ireland squad should the Canaries win today's play-off final against Middlesbrough
Norwich's Wes Hoolahan could boost the EPL representation in the Ireland squad should the Canaries win today's play-off final against Middlesbrough
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill believes Wes Hoolahan will be ideally suited to the challenge of today's play-off final at Wembley as he looks for a happy Irish ending to the season.

Relegation for Hull quartet Robbie Brady, David Meyler, Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn will reduce the top-flight presence in O'Neill's squad although the latter pair are out of contract.

Hoolahan has a chance to improve the Premier League contingent by going in the opposite direction if Norwich beat Middlesbrough in today's decider.

O'Neill reckons the nature of the game could suit the strengths of the Dubliner who turned 33 last week.

"I think so," said the Irish manager. "If you're playing at Wembley, it's a different atmosphere completely. It's a big day and really important and it should suit someone like Wes.

"I covered the semi-final games (v Ipswich). He didn't start in the match at Portman Road, he came on and then I thought he did very well in the second game, very well indeed even though he was replaced for the last 15 minutes."

O'Neill has taken some positives from the past month with Shane Long scoring goals for Southampton and Shay Given back in the Aston Villa fold and set to start the FA Cup Final, although he sat out yesterday's game with Burnley due to a groin problem. "I have no idea," said Tim Sherwood when asked of the chances of Given, 39, pulling through. "We'll assess him every day. We're not ruling him out."

There was also more good news with John O'Shea avoiding the dreaded drop with Sunderland.

"That'll be a great relief to him," said O'Neill, paying a humorous tribute to the Sunderland man who has continued his unbroken run at the highest level. "He had a long career at Manchester United," he said. "When you pick the ball up and you've only got 35 options, it's not bad really. Shall I pass this ball to Keane? To Scholes? No no, I'll give it to Ronaldo instead. Then you come away from that and find out your options are less forgiving in that sense and, yeah, that's life."

O'Neill was speaking at the Mark Farren fundraiser where he broke the news Robbie Keane will miss the England friendly on June 7 because of club duties. The Irish camp will grant a request from LA Galaxy as the manager is planning to experiment in that game.

His group assemble next Monday with Championship players who missed the play-offs coming off a long break.

"There's one or two, I'd rather not hear what they're doing," he joked. "I put in a call to one or two and heard a foreign ringtone so whether they're training in Magaluf, I'm not sure. No, one or two are obviously doing some training which is great and they're genuinely fine at the minute."

Middlesbrough v Norwich City,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 3.0

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