Richard Dunne’s return looks set to be short-lived for Ireland

Daryl Murphy’s form for Ipswich Town has caught manager Martin O'Neill's eye


Richard Dunne’s return yesterday to the Republic of Ireland squad looks set to be short-lived, with Martin O’Neill suggesting that the QPR defender is likely to be one of six left at their clubs when he cuts his initial list of 29 to 23 for the March 5th friendly against Serbia.

The 34-year-old has been a regular for Harry Redknapp since moving to Loftus Road and recovering from an injury that had threatened to be career-ending. His ongoing fitness is clearly not being taken for granted, however, and with the promotion-chasing Londoners heading into a busy and critically important spell, O’Neill seems quite content to do without his services on this occasion

“I did speak to Richard. He has played a lot of games this year and is delighted with that; considering he thought his career was actually over a year ago,” said O’Neill.

“I may well have seen him play as often as anyone else; I seem to have been at most of his games. Not every moment has been brilliant for him (but) sometimes he’s looked sublime and done very well indeed. I’ll monitor it (but) he may well be one of the lads that I drop out of the squad. I have a lot of centre halves and he has a lot of games coming up in March.”

The northerner will be doing much the same with Shay Given who was completely omitted despite having had a decent loan spell at Middlesbrough. There had been some speculation about a recall for the former Newcastle and Manchester City goalkeeper, but O’Neill made it clear that returning to the reserves at Aston Villa is not the basis on which he is going to extend his international career.

Long-time status
Asked if his long-time status as the team’s undisputed number one tended to count against him being merely a part of the squad at this stage, O’Neill acknowledged that it probably does although he maintained that there is still the possibility of a return even if he did sound just a little sceptical.

“Let’s just say that by September he has found a club and is going brilliantly; it would be remiss of me not to go and see if he happened to be in blinding form and is the Shay Given of a couple of years ago and he could step in and be the best goalkeeper that we had at that particular time. But the last thing I want to do is to start put pressure on him.”

Robbie Keane has been left with his club after an agreement with LA Galaxy boss Bruce Arena, O’Neill said, while there was no recall for Brighton midfielder Keith Andrews whose hopes of featuring again for his country must now be fading.

The one big winner, in fact, was Daryl Murphy, whose form for Ipswich Town – for whom he has scored eight times – has caught the manager’s eye.

“I watched Murphy and thought he played very well,” he said. “I spoke to Mick, too, and he’s been happy with him so I thought: ‘If Robbie’s not going to be involved, let’s get him involved’.”

It is good news for the 30-year-old who, having earned eight caps without scoring, has been on the international margins for quite some time.

Younger players
O’Neill gave little away when it came to questions about the younger players who might have thought they were in with a shout of a call-up, however, and when asked about his pursuit of players who would need to declare for Ireland, he said that he was keen on a couple he preferred not to name but is still weighing up his options.

Stephen Ireland, he suggested, is still weighing up his, but the manager said that while he was not going to waste time chasing players who did not want to or were not good enough to be in the team, it had been put to him by a third party that Ireland is “warming” to the idea and that this seemed a fair assessment of the situation.

He has, he says, spoken with the player on the telephone and intends to meet with him but, he admitted, even if the Corkman can re-establish himself more firmly at club level, there is nothing to suggest at this point that he would get into the Irish side ahead of James McCarthy.

The May 31st friendly against Italy, meanwhile, looks almost certain now to be in London but, with Turkey also lined up to visit Dublin on the 25th, O’Neill sounded cool about the idea of playing Portugal on June 10th in New York despite the organisers and Portuguese federation both having been sufficiently confident last week that the game was going ahead to actually announce it.

“I don’t mind travelling,” said the manager, “and I’ll look for the third game if it’s at all possible, but I’m aware of the fact that there would be a 10-day break and I have to think of the players.”