O’Neill’s recruiting campaign continues
36 named in Republic of Ireland squad but there’s room for more
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill at the offical announcement of his 36-man squad for the upcoming games against Oman and Georgia. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill yesterday did his best to include everyone in his provisional squad, but given the choice one feels he would have shoe-horned a few more in there as his first competitive campaign draws ever closer.
There are no uncapped players among the 36 and there is work to do to bring the average age down, but talks are ongoing in the background and he expects big decisions from potential recruits in the near future.
ConvinceIt’s a “delicate” diplomatic process, complicated by the English FA’s reluctance to let go of young talent without a fight, but O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane are working to convince a few Ireland can work for them.
The absence of new faces, O’Neill insisted, was not down to caution, but to patience.
“I have never been frightened before to throw younger players into games,” said the manager. “Without going into great detail, one or two younger players that I would be interested in taking, who are not actually born here in Ireland, have decisions to make.
“And the last thing I want to do is force things at this minute, particularly if they are relatively delicate”.
Jack Grealish, the Birmingham-born Ireland under-21 on the books of Aston Villa and under the tutelage of Keane and Paul Lambert, is one of those and O’Neill has been speaking with him and his father, but that’s as far as it goes for now.
“I really do not want to pressurise. I would like people to come to their own decision.”
This Ireland side, however, in the qualifying group it finds itself in, remains a tough sell to a youngster with ambitions of playing on the bigger stages.
“The number one selling point is there is a . . . fairly decent chance that if you’re talking about England, for instance, there’s a fairly decent chance they might have better opportunities to play for us.
“Now if you finally break into an England squad . . . the chances of qualification for European and World Cup tournaments is of course greater.”
None of which is helped by the fact the FA are now scrapping that bit harder to keep local talent on standby, at least, and the vested financial interest clubs have in employing England, rather than Ireland, internationals.
One man who appears to be on his way is Ipswich Town striker David McGoldrick, who has made no secret of his wish to play for the country of his maternal grandfather.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said O’Neill. “He is definitely a talented lad and no question he is definitely on the radar.” When is another question because “paperwork” needs to be sorted out, but “where there’s a will there’s a way,” added O’Neill.
The squad itself is somewhat undermined by the fact there are a few niggly injuries and, with it due to assemble in 10 days’ time, many players haven’t had too many minutes on the pitch of late.
Everton’s Darron Gibson is included, and eager, but he’s not match fit after a 10-month absence and Ireland are well covered in central midfield, even though Andy Reid is also troubled by a “few problems”.
“He may still play the Saturday before the Oman game, there’s still talk about him needing injections or something like that. The precise problem? Good point. I haven’t gone into the particulars of it but there’s talk of injections.”
Ditto James McClean, whose pre-season was hampered by an ankle injury and who hasn’t featured for Wigan yet in this campaign. “He’s doing some running, he hopes to be involved some stage (with Wigan), but there are not that many matches left.”
UndercookedThe fear for the manager is his squad, despite its size, is undercooked and could pay dearly for a false start in Tblisi on September 7th. The Oman game, therefore, is much appreciated.
“I’m really pleased we set this game up,” he said. “It was always in my mind, you thought that one or two players you might be relying on heavily might not have played that much football between the start of season and Georgia game.”
If fit, O’Neill has not thought about starting with anyone other than Robbie Keane as captain, but there were hints of encouragement for others. “He (Keane) has a good influence on the team and has been very good off it too and he’s been fine. John (O’Shea) has stood in manfully in his stead at times and I didn’t see any reasons to change that sort of procedure.
“That does not mean . . . if for instance Robbie or John are not playing in some game for some reason or another, that someone else can’t stake a claim there and say ‘this is where I belong and I intend being around for the next number of years’.
Keane, he added, is “not getting younger by the day and there will be a time, hopefully not for a while, where he will have to think about it.”