Martin O’Neill keeping his options open as he names a 36-man squad
Wes Hoolahan the only definite absentee at this stage for important assignment against Scotland
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill: “It’s not my job to pressure somebody into a decision that they might not entirely fancy,” said O’Neill of Jack Grealish’s future international intenstions. Photo: Ian Walton/Getty
Both men were named in O’Neill’s latest 36-strong preliminary squad but then, as the Derry man himself suggested yesterday, he sees little point in leaving anyone out at this stage. His real options will emerge much closer to the November 14th game which has the potential to have a major bearing on whether Ireland make it to the finals in France in two years’ time.
But before cutting any of those he included yesterday, he admitted, he may actually add to the number with the paperwork on David McGoldrick and Cyrus Christie’s eligibility edging towards completion.
“It does seem to take an eternity to sort out but I don’t think there’s any real serious issues outstanding so there is the possibility of those two being available,” he said. “I’ve watched (Ipswich striker) David a few times and seen an awful lot of Cyrus, who has been doing exceptionally well.
“Christie is very strong,” he continued. “He gets forward, he’s like Séamus Coleman in that he is prepared to run at and take on people.
“The defensive side of his game seems to be improving too, he has been very well for Derby so he would be a very welcome addition to the squad.”
O’Neill, of course, has been operating without a natural right back in the last couple of games but the more pressing issues for him as he prepares for Scotland look to be in midfield where Wes Hoolahan is definitely ruled out, Whelan remains a major doubt and Gibson will have a scan today after jarring his knee in training.
Gibson should be okay but O’Neill acknowledged that there remains the wider problem of how little football he is getting at Everton just now.
That will be less of a concern if Whelan makes an unlikely recovery from a fracture that his club manager, Mark Hughes, pretty much said would keep him away from Glasgow.
“Initially I thought he was going to be out for quite some time,” said O’Neill, “until December, perhaps around Christmas, but I spoke with him over the last couple of days and that’s certainly not what he’s saying. He says he’s getting better every day, the leg still isn’t weight-bearing, which is significant, but he’s certainly not ruling himself out so it makes sense to include him in the squad at this moment. I did think he was going to be out longer but that’s not the message coming back from him.”
Hoolahan, he confirmed, is definitely out with ankle ligament damage, a loss he described as “a blow for his club and country,” but Jeff Hendrick, he noted, is looking sharper with each passing game for Derby.
O’Neill sounded like a man who was not getting prematurely excited about who may or may not be featuring against the Scots given, as he noted, that he cannot be entirely sure that even players like Coleman and James McCarthy, who have both returned for Everton since missing the trip to Germany, will be fit and available in a couple of weeks’ time.
In Coleman’s case, he said, he had spoken to the player, who, like McCarthy, was playing again as soon as the international window was over, and accepted that the defender genuinely wanted to get over a hamstring injury after having felt previously that he had come back too soon.
“I can’t claim to know Séamus too well,” he said, “but I think his keenness to play for Ireland is always there.”
Jack Grealish’s international intentions, meanwhile, appear to remain in doubt although O’Neill suggested he may simply not be up to speed on the player’s intentions.
“I’ve left it at that. There has been no contact, I’m just going to leave it. There sometimes seems to be a lot of things going forwards and backwards, some that I’m not always aware of, but it’s not my job to pressure somebody into a decision that they might not entirely fancy somewhere further down the line.
“It’s preferable that the player makes the call when he’s happy to and that’s something that’s likely to work out better over the long term.”