Little change expected in O’Neill’s Ireland squad
Jack Grealish may earn an early call-up ahead of Oman friendly and Georgia qualifier
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill will announce his squad for Oman and Georgia on Thursday morning. Photograph: Donall Farmer / Inpho
Seven games into his Republic of Ireland managerial tenure and the path ahead of Martin O’Neill looks much the same as it did when the Euro 2016 draw was made in February, other than the fact Germany have now been upgraded to “world champions”.
O’Neill will name an extended squad this morning ahead of the September 3rd friendly against Oman in Dublin and the first qualifier against Georgia in Tbilisi four days later.
If the second game was today, it wouldn’t be unthinkable, injuries permitting, to see the Derry man start with the same team as he did in his debut 3-0 win over Latvia in November last.
As it stands, there looks to be significant doubt over the fitness of James McClean, who has yet to feature for Wigan Athletic this season after injuring his ankle in pre-season last month.
Robbie Brady’s availability, after a season of injury and frustration, will compensate for that if McClean remains sidelined into September.
The one significant change since O’Neill’s appointment – assistant Roy Keane’s second job at Aston Villa – may in fact be the catalyst for the most notable adjustment to the squad; if not today, soon.
Jack Grealish remains one of Villa’s brightest prospects and one assumes the presence of Keane on the training ground at Bodymoor Heath, plus the 20 minutes of action the midfielder saw in the opening day win over Stoke and manager Paul Lambert’s prediction of a “massive future” for the 18-year-old, are positive developments for his prospects at senior level. Whether or not O’Neill feels the Oman friendly is the right time for that next step should be revealed today.
New facesThe chances of any other new faces appear slim, with potential ‘granny rule’ recruits like Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Kyle Naughton still around that age where an England career appears both preferable and possible, though less so for the latter. At 27, former England under-21 captain Mark Noble of West Ham might be more inclined to make the leap.
Indeed, O’Neill’s call on central midfield for both games will be of some interest, with Darron Gibson unlikely to be match sharp if he is released for Ireland duty by Everton after being sidelined with a knee injury since his last Irish appearance in October, and both Stephen Quinn and Jeff Hendrick starting the season brightly and vying for a place alongside Gibson’s club-mate James McCarthy.
Quinn’s performance for Hull after replacing Robert Snodgrass against QPR last weekend “changed the game”, according to manager Steve Bruce, while Hendrick opened the new Championship campaign with two goals in his first two games for Derby.
Glenn Whelan remains available but Paul Green looks to have been ruled out by an “X-rated” tackle from former international team-mate Keith Andrews of Watford, according to Rotherham United’s manager Steve Evans.
The biggest boost to O’Neill is the expected availability of Everton full-back Séamus Coleman, who has overcome a hamstring injury and was deemed fit enough to make a cameo appearance off the bench in the league opener against Leicester City at the weekend.
“He has been working really well, and he was desperate to be part of the squad on Saturday. I think now it’s fair to say that he’s considered fully fit and ready to join the group and help the team in any game,” said Roberto Martinez.
Aiden McGeady’s special finish to open the scoring in the same game must have also cheered the Ireland boss, whose side has averaged a goal a game since he took over.
On the more contentious side of the back four, O’Neill will no doubt be glad to have seen Stephen Ward move from Championship side Wolves back to Premier League action with Burnley. Before the transfer window closes on August 31st he’ll be hoping the unwanted Kevin Doyle and Kevin Foley will find a similarly fortuitous escape route from Molineux.
The bulk of O’Neill’s squad will assemble in Dublin on Sunday 31st and train together at Gannon Park on the Monday ahead of the Oman game, before leaving for Tblisi on Friday, September 5th.