Martin O’Neill holds fire in latest McCarthy fitness debacle

Ireland midfielder’s fitness uncertain ahead of the World Cup qualifier with Austria

Martin O’Neill is hopeful that James McCarthy will be fit to at least face Austria in the 2018 World Cup qualifier next month. Photo: Ross Byrne/Inpho

Martin O’Neill is hopeful that James McCarthy will be fit to at least face Austria in the 2018 World Cup qualifier next month. Photo: Ross Byrne/Inpho

 

Suggestions of James McCarthy’s omission from the Ireland squad for the World Cup qualifier against Austria game proved premature on Monday but Martin O’Neill remains unsure as to whether the Everton midfielder will actually be match fit for the start of next month given that he is only starting back to full training this week.

“James is in the squad at the moment,” said the manager after the association had left him out of the list of players initially published on some of their social media platforms. “I have put him in provisionally because according to Everton he is starting full-time training this week. Obviously he won’t be involved in their last game but that’s what they are doing.

“They have scanned him and there is some scar tissue as you’d be expecting but I would say that we will be in a better position to make some sort of judgement by, say, Friday; certainly by early next week.

“We still have time, of course, and if we come through this week unscathed, it might be something that we would look at.

“It will probably end up depending on how he feels himself, though,” continued the manager. “If there was chance for him to play . . . then I would have to see what how he was between now and the end of the week or the beginning of next week.

“If he has done three or four days consecutively and he feels that he is actually doing well, then I have a decision to make. If he is actually thinking ‘I don’t feel great about this’ then, I feel, you know what, then just leave it for the summer.”

Ronald Koeman

Asked about the potential for further problems with Everton over the player, O’Neill stood his ground with regard to what happened before but acknowledged that Ronald Koeman and co. would inevitably prefer that McCarthy be just left to recover completely over the close season. His own interests are different, he pointed out but, he added: “The truth of it is this; the one thing that we have to come to accept is that there is no point in bringing in somebody who is just half fit.”

Ciaran Clark, it seems, is not even close to that with the Newcastle defender now resigned, it seems, to targeting the start of next season for his comeback from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of Newcastle’s Championship winning run-in.

“Ciaran came back and I was delighted that he came back but then he injured himself again,” said O’Neill. “He has gone down to see the specialist and the specialist is pretty pessimistic about the particular injury.

“According to Alan Byrne, my doctor, he thinks that the specialist is saying maybe eight weeks or something like that. So it is a blow to Ciaran (and us) because I felt that it would be great to have him back again.

Shane Duffy is fit with Chris Hughton having allowed the Brighton defender to complete his recovery through the last couple of weeks of the campaign when, it seems, he might have thrown him straight back into the first team.

“I spoke to Shane and he himself felt that he could have played the last couple of games. But the manager quite rightly said ‘give yourself a wee bit more time, there is no need for it and get yourself right and play the international game’.”

Competition for place

Meanwhile, Burnley’s Kevin Long is included in one of O’Neill’s extended squads for the first time with the manager suggesting that the 26-year-old, who has been badly hit by injuries over the past year or so, can add a bit of competition for place over the coming weeks although it remains to be seen whether the Corkman survives any cut that might take place after the trip to America.

At present the intention is that around 15 or 16 players mainly – though not exclusively – drawn from Championship clubs not involved in the playoffs nwill head to Fota Island for some intensive training ahead of the trip to New Jersey where Ireland will play Mexico on June 1st.

There would, be suggested, be some scope for “experimentation” in that game before he turned his attention to Austria, for which Uruguay on June 3rd might be something of a dress rehearsal.

“I remember a couple of years ago, we had the England game before the Scotland game,” he said. “If you asked me then had we placed up for grabs; well (this time) there will be places up for grabs. But if, for instance, a group of Premier League players didn’t go to America, this (Uruguay game) would be the only chance in between times (of playing) apart from the bit of training we do. So you’d be trying to aim for as many of the players as possible.”

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