Martin O'Neill says Harry Arter can still return to Ireland fold
Manager says Cardiff midfielder’s case and that of Declan Rice are totally different
Callum O’Dowda taking part in Ireland’s training session at the National Training Centre, Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Martin O’Neill says he has not ruled Harry Arter out of his longer term plans but as the bulk of the Ireland squad trained together for the first time since the summer at Abbotstown, the Republic of Ireland manager did not exactly sound like the 28-year-old currently occupies a terribly central place in them after he declined to be involved in the games against Wales and Poland.
The northerner’s line seemed to harden ever so slightly in the few minutes it took to get from his broadcast press conference to the one with the daily papers with his initial position about not seeing why Arter could not return shifting to one in which he would “look at that”. He was adamant, though, that the player’s absence was down to more than just a training ground altercation with Roy Keane.
Rumours regarding a row involving Keane, Arter and Jon Walters at the end of which, according to some versions, Declan Rice had made an attempt to smooth things over, had been doing the rounds for a while. O’Neill confirmed last week that something had indeed happened and he acknowledged here that it had been a factor in Arter’s decision to stay away.
He declined to say what the argument had been about but the most plausible of the possibilities circulating involved the former Manchester United star making a disparaging remark regarding the pair’s fitness or lack of it.
Whatever was said, O’Neill pointed out more than once, Walters was a party to the dispute but is here regardless and eager to play his part.
Arter, he suggested, on the other hand, has a lot going on right now and while the row had been a factor, he acknowledged, he maintains that it is far from the be all and end all of the matter.
“Harry was a major player in Bournemouth’s rise,” said the manager when asked if he felt he had been let down by the player. “But Bournemouth would not have loaned him out one year into a four year contract if they thought he was going to play a part for them in the immediate future.
“Harry needs some games. This is the first time in over a year that Harry Arter has played three consecutive games. So, all of those things have a bearing. He’s got a family as well too, he’s moving house, he’s doing all of these particular things. Harry sold up in Bournemouth, before he knew he was heading to Cardiff. So I don’t feel let down. It’s not...I just don’t.
“I don’t feel let down, this is the point, I’m an international manager, I get on with things and deal with the players that are available to me and the vast majority of players here that I’ve picked want to play for the Republic whether they were born here or elsewhere.”
This was a reference to the constant cross referencing in questions of the latest turn of events and last week’s news that Declan Rice wants a bit of time to reflect on his own international future and not a particular pop at the now Cardiff midfielder and O’Neill was anxious to put some distance between the two cases.
“I think the Rice situation is totally different,” he said. “Harry has been in the squad, he has played international football for Ireland. It’s not as if he has a choice to go somewhere else. The young lad does have a choice.
“Despite the fact he has played for only 45 minutes for West Ham in the opening weeks of the season, I think that on the strength of what he did for us in the games at senior level and considering that we have the players that we have missing like Brady and McCarthy, he would have had a good chance of starting in midfield. We’ve got a few issues to resolve [with Declan] but I think his case is totally different to Harry’s.
“You get to the stage when somebody cannot be picking and choosing [their games],” he continued when asked if the door was as open for the now Cardiff player to return. “But I will have a look at it. Things have a habit of resolving themselves sometimes outside the public face of things.”
In the meanwhile, he made it abundantly clear, he retains “total confidence in Roy,” who, he said, has played an important role in the set up over the last few years and confidence too in the unity of a camp that, on the face of it, might be vulnerable to internal division just now.
“Look, we are short of technical ability at the high end of this game and we could not have achieved what we did in getting to France and getting to the playoffs if we didn’t have a strong bond.”
The players, he maintains, are united in their desire to see Rice return with James McClean, who seemed to take a hard line last week on social media, having apparently contacted Rice to tell him so.
“No. I was speaking to James and speaking to a few of the lads and they are all of the same opinion. It’s nice to know. James is a Tweeting maniac, though… I wish James would think about it a little bit more. But James has a bit heart, you realise that and James wanted to do it himself.”
Shane Long, meanwhile, has been ruled out of both games with a foot injury.
Revised Republic of Ireland squad: Doyle (Hearts), McDermott (Kristiansund), Randolph (Middlesbrough); Coleman (Everton), Christie (Fulham), Doherty (Wolves), Duffy (Brighton), Keogh (Derby County), Clark (Newcastle United), Long and Ward (Burnley), Egan and Stevens (Sheffield United); Judge (Brentford), Hendrick (Burnley), Hourihane (Aston Villa), Browne (Preston), Williams (Millwall), Meyler (Reading), Horgan (Hibernian), O’Dowda (Bristol City), McClean (Stoke City); Walters (Ipswich Town), Burke and Robinson (Preston), O’Brien (Millwall).