Sunday 22 September 2019

Shane Long injury opens door for new call-up Obafemi to make Ireland debut

In-demand Southampton youngster in line to be handed green card

The Derryman acknowledged last week that the inclusion of Obafemi (pictured) in the long list was partially related to the possibility of interest from Nigeria and England. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
The Derryman acknowledged last week that the inclusion of Obafemi (pictured) in the long list was partially related to the possibility of interest from Nigeria and England. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The ankle injury that has ruled Shane Long out of Ireland's double-header with Northern Ireland and Denmark has increased the possibility of Michael Obafemi coming into the reckoning for an international debut in the coming week.

Long requires surgery and is facing around a month on the sidelines and the unavailability of the most senior striker in Martin O'Neill's provisional squad offers the scope to try something different.

The Derryman acknowledged last week that the inclusion of Obafemi in the long list was partially related to the possibility of interest from Nigeria and England.

That said, he stressed that he was confident of the teenager's commitment following a chat with Ireland U-19 boss Tom Mohan.

Media reports in Nigeria also indicated that they felt they had missed out on the forward who was born in Dublin but grew up across the water.

Southampton supremo Mark Hughes subsequently planted a seed of doubt by saying that it wasn't that straightforward.

He gave the speedy striker a late run off the bench in Saturday's draw with Watford and O'Neill might be tempted to use the 18-year-old in a similar manner across the next week should he report for duty.

O'Neill tends to trim down his list and he does have quantity in the striking area, even if he has bemoaned the absence of proven quality.

Sean Maguire is back fit and playing regularly at Preston and will be in the frame while Callum Robinson struck his eighth goal of the campaign on Saturday.

Scott Hogan has started to figure as an option off the bench for Aston Villa since they appointed his old Brentford boss Dean Smith, and Aiden O'Brien is rated by O'Neill even though he's in and out of the side at Millwall.

His header in Poland in September is the only international effort registered by Ireland's available strike options this week.

Portsmouth's Ronan Curtis is also hoping for another opportunity to impress, although O'Neill has been slow to look at players at League One level.

By contrast, he is desperate for any players with Premier League potential and that's why Obafemi is of particular interest.

He does not agree with the concept of capping individuals ahead of schedule, but the vexing Declan Rice saga has highlighted the need to move quickly and try and embrace those who might waver.

It would be a surprise if a chance to integrate Obafemi was passed up.

Rice is absent this week of course while he mulls his international options, but comments from O'Neill suggest that he has not given up hope on keeping the West Ham player.

England boss Gareth Southgate also stressed that his only face-to-face meeting with Rice took place in the summer.

Recent reports had indicated it was a done deal and Rice was bound for England, but O'Neill has reason to believe otherwise and will go and meet the player along with talent scout Mark O'Toole - the 'father figure' who initially recruited the Londoner for Irish underage action.

O'Neill knows he is under pressure to deliver some positivity to a year that has largely been bereft of it.

Stressed

In the Sunday newspapers, he stressed that he had "paid my way" as Ireland boss by reaching Euro 2016

Questions on his reported €1.9m salary led discussion that way, with O'Neill refusing to confirm the figure.

"We made substantial money from the Euros. So I don't think I have to worry too much about my wages. I think I have paid my way," he said.

He does certainly earn far more than his Northern Irish counterpart Michael O'Neill, whose wage is believed to be in the €900,000-a-year territory and that came after a double-your-money contract offer.

However, Ireland captain Seamus Coleman last night asserted that well-paid players should take the blame for recent struggles.

"Never once have I been told kick it into a channel," he told Off The Ball.

"Players have to be brave and that's not just tackles - it's getting on the ball and making things happen. We're professional footballers, we get paid a lot of money to do what we do."

Irish Independent

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