Janko’s absence may give Ireland an edge against Austria

Walters, Ward and Duffy look good for Sunday, while Keogh is hopeful of start

With some of the players having been in or around this Ireland squad for more than two weeks now, Martin O’Neill and co will take a break on Thursday before returning to the training ground on Friday for the final phase of their preparations for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria.

Jon Walters is expected to be involved when the group reconvenes in Abbotstown. He skipped Wednesday's public training at the Aviva in favour of a gym session because of an underlying knee problem. Stephen Ward is also believed to be okay, despite having to have his knee heavily strapped.

Things are not going so well for the Austrians, though, with 33-year-old Marc Janko, who this week moved from Basel to Sparta Prague, becoming the latest of Marcel Koller's players to be ruled out of the Dublin game.

The big striker has apparently been laid low by tonsillitis and the manager, who had been already been short of options due to injuries and suspensions, has called in 27-year-old Deni Alar of Sturm Graz, a former under-21 international who has yet to make a senior appearance for his country.

Growing misfortune

In the Irish camp, there is an understandable reluctance to get carried away with the opposition’s growing misfortune. But there is still an unavoidable sense that this might be a good time to catch a team that at this stage last year were being talked of as good outside bets to become champions of Europe.

Janko's absence will make Schalke 04 striker Guido Burgstaller, who has had quite a season, an even more likely starter on Sunday. The growing sense of certainty over Koller's attack might shape Martin O'Neill's selection in defence, although his own options are rather limited just now.

Shane Duffy seems a certainty to anchor things in the centre, and Richard Keogh is hopeful that he might get the chance ahead of most likely rival John O'Shea to start what would be his third qualifier of the current campaign.

Pecking order

“Who knows,” says the Derby defender, when asked precisely where he might be right now in the manager’s pecking order. “I’d like to think that I have proven in games for my country that I am ready when called upon. I have played in some big games and played well, so I will train hard, that’s what I do, and the manager will make a decision on what he feels is the best to get a good result against Austria.

“I think it’s great [that there is competition for places] but as a professional you back yourself to play, don’t you? You just have to prove that and I am no different; ask any player and they’ll want to play, not every player can, but as long as you show you are good enough you have given yourself a chance.

“I don’t care about competition, I have had that throughout my career and I have worked for everything I have got. When you are in the squad you back yourself to play.”