Martin O’Neill offers stark assessment of Irish striking situation
Long and Walters included in group for games against Celtic, France and the USA
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neil at the squad announcement in Navan, Co Meath. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
A day after John O’Shea announced he would make way so that members of a new generation might get the chance to stake their claim for a place in the senior international set up, Martin O’Neill suggested that the younger ones needed to be doing rather more to force the issue.
The former Manchester United defender departs having essentially been made redundant by the emergence of Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark. To judge by final selection of his latest provisional squad, the manager has shifted his focus to finding someone capable of doling out a P45 to one of the long-established strikers.
Shane Long’s and Jon Walters’ current club stats don’t look like the sort of numbers that should be gracing an international player’s CV, but both are included in a group of 40 intended to get O’Neill through the three forthcoming games against Celtic, France and the USA. The search for successors, though, is clearly in full swing, with Callum Robinson and Shamrock Rovers’ Graham Burke the latest ones to be offered an audition in the manager’s ongoing attempt to broaden his options.
In the event they get to play, both will be hoping to make more of a case for themselves than Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan managed to in Turkey. The pair are back, though, and the situation is such that the opportunities would be unlikely to be ended with squandered second chances.
“My view on it is that little Maguire, I think he can take players on,” said O’Neill as he combined squad announcing and a spot of PR at the Spar Primary Schools 5s Leinster finals in Navan.
“Callum is lightweight, he’s a lightweight player, he was at Villa, and they didn’t consider him good enough. But he’s scored a few goals. He’s trying to go past a few. and from that viewpoint, why not?
“But we have a problem with it. We do not have a Robbie Keane, and we don’t have anybody here that you would think at this minute would be even semi-guaranteed to get you a goal in important situations. That’s somewhere where you say, ‘we might as well have a look at these’.
“So Maguire can take people on, and does have an eye for goal. Around the penalty area he’s quite dangerous.
“Hogan, he’s lacking a bit of confidence, I think. I think he thought he was going to have a big, big season with Villa but it didn’t happen. I like him around the box, but he can do better in terms of hold-up play. I still think that’s important for a centre forward, particularly at our level. I think he can get you a goal, but the question of whether he’s going to be prolific at international level is another thing.
“Jon [Walters] after Robbie Keane would be the next in terms of scoring goals. Shane plays irregularly at club level and doesn’t score the goals at this minute, but we are still depending on him, this is the point, because he can stretch teams. That’s what we have.
“So, listen, if you come across anybody that is playing out in Kiev, I will go over there because all the good sides have boys who can score goals – that eventually is what wins matches for you, guys who can put the ball in the net. And, honestly, I don’t know what it is, whether it’s something we eat or we don’t, but we haven’t had it for a long time. I am sorry to leave it on such a negative note but that is the truth of it.”
Burke, he suggested, had caught the eye with a couple of his spectacular strikes and his all round play, but O’Neill made no secret of how a big a step-up he feels international football would be for the 24 year-old.
The Dubliner might well get some sort of taste of it in Glasgow nevertheless, although his hopes of making an actual impact would surely be hindered if he has to play for Rovers in Sligo the previous night, something, O’Neill says, he would be happy enough to allow him to do.
The two other newcomers, 31-year-old Millwall midfielder Shaun Williams and Peterborough goalkeeper Conor O’Malley, will also be hoping to be involved that day as the squad is likely to take on a more familiar look as it edges towards the third of the three games, with O’Shea one of those who will join up for the game against the United States.
It should be a nice occasion, with Wes Hoolahan and Daryl Murphy likely to be honoured for their past contributions. What would clearly make the manager’s day, however, would be somebody using it to suggest they have something significant to chip into the team’s future.