Browne and Arter hoping to press their case against France
Both midfielders with plenty to prove to Republic manager O’Neill
Martin O’Neill: his Republic of Ireland side face a tough test against one of the favourites for the World Cup this summer. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Having made plain his desire to find his side a fresh source of goals, Martin O’Neill heads to France this morning with only his most established forwards and the manager’s focus may have to shift to the midfield where Harry Arter and Alan Browne are both hoping to get game-time at the Stade de France.
Arter has lost ground in the set-up, he knows, due to the stop-start nature of his involvement to date and travels in the hope of putting a gloss on what has been a nightmarish season at Bournemouth.
Browne, by contrast, has been in for the form of his life and having added goals to his own game with Preston in the Championship he is anxious, he says, to add a few to Ireland’s.
“I think within the squad we all know that we do need more goals,” says the 23- year-old whose form since shifting to a more advanced role at Deepdale was recently rewarded with a near clean sweep of the club’s end of season awards.
“In the past, it was a case of hitting teams on the counter-attack and hoping that we get one but I just want to bring my own game to the international set-up and try and break forward when I can. But, obviously, it’s a different style of play here . . .”
His return – nine goals in 44 games – plus the one he got last week at Celtic, certainly tends to suggest that he is worth another shot.
Against a French team many count amongst the favourites to lift the world title over the summer, though, just letting people know he was playing, as Roy Keane put it about Graham Burke on Thursday, might be enough to enhance his reputation this time around and earn him another chance back at home, against the USA next week.
Browne clearly has time on his side whereas Arter sounded yesterday like a man who, at 28, has become just a little bit anxious over the rate that it has started slipping by.
A long-established regular over the previous seven campaigns under Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, he admits that status only made it harder to accept when he lost his place last season and there is the clear impression that he may well move between now and August in order to get back playing regularly again.
“Naturally, there’s a chance just because of how the season went,” he says.
“I know in my heart that I can go back to Bournemouth and get back in the team there. That it’s going to be a fresh start. But the agents and people at the club who run it, it’s up to them to work out what’s best for the club and what’s the best for me. It’s completely out of our hands; me and the manger understand that.”
And so a good game or two for Ireland right now might help his club career although his priority, he insists, is to “cement” himself into O’Neill’s squad then side just short of three years after he won the first of just 11 caps.
A reminder of the attacking threat he can pose when allowed to play on the front foot would be timely although Alan Judge will be hoping to get an opportunity on that front too after having been drafted in for the injured Eunan O’Kane.
Everyone else in the still slightly extended squad is expected to be available with only Callum O’Dowda failing to take a full part in training yesterday due to a groin strain.
That might be just as well for O’Neill will surely need every available option against high-calibre hosts quite a few of whom are still vying a little more urgently for starting spots.
It is not, on the face of it, the most promising of scenarios but at least on this occasion there will be no Thierry Henry.
Revised Republic of Ireland squad: Colin Doyle (Bradford City), Conor O’Malley (Peterborough), Shane Supple (Bohemians); Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Wolves), John Egan (Brentford), Shane Duffy (Brighton), Kevin Long (Burnley), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn), Declan Rice (West Ham), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Derrick Williams (Blackburn), Greg Cunningham (Preston NE); Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City), Harry Arter (Bournemouth), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), David Meyler (Hull City), Alan Judge (Brentford), Alan Browne (Preston NE), Shaun Williams (Millwall), James McClean (West Brom), Daryl Horgan (Preston NE); Jonathan Walters (Burnley), Shane Long (Southampton), Graham Burke (Shamrock Rovers).