Monday 19 March 2018

O'Connell and Hogan may earn O'Neill call for Oman friendly

Martin O'Neill Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Martin O'Neill Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Just four weeks on from Ireland's Euro crusade ending, manager Martin O'Neill will today start the next chapter by turning his attention towards for the World Cup qualification opener against Serbia in Belgrade on September 5.

Tradition is expected to be maintained with the manager planning to bring in an enlarged panel for a gathering which begins with a friendly on August 31 against Oman, a replica fixture to the one that preceded O'Neill's first campaign two years ago.

Facing a nation on home soil ranked 106 in the world rankings is hardly ideal for the task awaiting in the Balkans five days later but O'Neill will use the exercise to offer some fringe players an audition while, in the case of at least one, provide a farewell setting.

Whether or not Robbie Keane is involved for one last time, Ireland's record scorer and caps holders will be at Lansdowne Road for the occasion to say his goodbyes to the Dublin crowd he entertained over an 18-year stretch . The FAI are aiming to entice spectators along by slashing ticket prices to as low as €5.

Another veteran, John O'Shea, may sit out the friendly but is in contention to make a return to the Ireland defence for the competitive opener. Shane Duffy is suspended for the trip and O'Neill still thinks the 35-year-old can contribute for one last campaign.

Harry Arter should finally win his second cap against Oman after recovering from the injury which ruled him out of the Euros and the uncapped winger Callum O'Dowda, fresh from his move to Championship club Bristol City, is in line to be back in the squad. Amongst the possible wildcards for promotion to O'Neill's plans are Celtic defender Eoghan O'Connell and Scott Hogan, the English-born Brentford striker currently attracting interest from Leicester City.

O'Neill, meanwhile, may use today's briefing in Clonmel ahead of tomorrow's FAI AGM to reveal contracts have finally been signed by himself and assistant Roy Keane.

How the saga has rumbled on since the FAI first decided to renew their contracts after qualification was secured last November is bewildering but perhaps the loose ends have eventually been resolved.

Irish Independent

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