Jonny Hayes hopeful but realistic about Ireland prospects
Celtic winger admits it will be difficult to break into O’Neill’s starting XI for Georgia
Jonny Hayes (L) is looking forward to Celtic’s Champions League campaign. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
John O’Shea sat out team training in Abbotstown on Wednesday due to a right calf muscle but Jon Walters continues to make progress in his recovery from the ankle injury that kept him out of Burnley’s draw at Tottenham, with the striker involved in the early part of the session before giving the 11-a-side a miss.
Nothing is certain at this stage but the 33-year-old looks a better bet with each passing day to be available for Saturday’s World Cup qualifier away to Georgia in Tbilisi.
Stephen Ward and Robbie Brady were also involved on Wednesday after having been allowed to rest in the wake of the game at Wembley and Aiden McGeady took part for the first time after the birth of his child but David McGoldrick has yet to link up with the squad – also due to his partner expecting – and may miss the trip.
The 29-year-old’s absence would limit Martin O’Neill’s attacking options just a little and perhaps move the likes of Jonny Hayes into the reckoning for a competitive debut - but the Celtic winger accepts that the best he can hope for in Tbilisi is a bit-part role in the game’s latter stages.
“I think the boys that are playing now, who have played the last few games, are fully deserving of their place in the team,” he says. “The last qualifying campaign we did well with the majority of the same players. Two or three have changed with injuries but I think anyone who has that jersey at the minute, it’s obviously hard to displace them.”
Players based in Scotland have struggled to establish themselves for Ireland under O’Neill despite - or maybe because - of his background in the league there, but Hayes’s summer move from Aberdeen to the champions and the Champions League might help his cause over the coming months.
Europe, he says, was not a major factor in the move but he has enjoyed the taste he got in the qualifying rounds with four appearances - including two from the bench against Linfield. Clearly, though, there are greater things and bigger nights to come during the weeks ahead with Celtic part of a group that includes two of the teams aiming to lift the trophy, Bayern Munich and PSG.
“It’s a different planet the elite stage. There are big games to look forward to and everyone knows about the crowd at Celtic Park. It would be nice to get a taste of that first hand.
“It was going to be tough regardless of who we got,” he continues, “but PSG seem to be the team that everyone is talking about at the minute. They’ve got Mbappe and Neymar which brings that attraction to it but we’ve got a couple of other tough teams in there but we’ll do our best at Celtic Park and look to extend our stay in European football for as long as possible.”
Whether some game-time might open doors with Ireland remains to be seen but in the meantime, he makes clear, he is just happy to be here.
“I never really thought of it [when signing], to be honest. I always thought, head down, play well, do the best you can do and if it comes . . .
“I look forward to it, make the most of every squad I’m in because it could my last one. For me, if you I manage to stay in the squad until the World Cup and get in it, then brilliant. If I played in the next four games, I still wouldn’t expect to be in the squad after that. You never want to count your chickens before they hatch.”