O’Neill welcomes Scott Hogan’s decision to plump for Republic
Striker could be added to Ireland squad for qualifiers once his Irish passport is sorted
Scott Hogan of Aston Villa in action against Cardiff. The striker could be added to the Republic of Ireland squad. Photograph: Neville Williams/Getty Images
Having named just the 39 players in his latest preliminary Ireland squad, Martin O’Neill confirmed that Scott Hogan may well take him back over the 40 mark within the next week or two with the FAI currently assisting the Aston Villa striker with the paperwork required for him to acquire an Irish passport.
If it comes through before the end of the month, the manager suggested, then the 25 year-old from Salford seems likely to be included in the final squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Serbia despite his recent lack of goals at club level.
Hogan has been of interest to O’Neill for more than a year but seemed less inclined to declare for Ireland when it appeared back in January that he was headed for the Premier League and, perhaps, a shot at an England cap.
In the end he moved to Championship side Aston Villa rather than West Ham and has struggled since at his new club with injury and loss of form.
O’Neill, who says he accepts entirely a player’s preference to play for the country of his birth as long as his desire to play for Ireland is ultimately genuine, is hopeful the striker’s problems are temporary and a return to full fitness will mean the goals start to flow again over the coming weeks.
“I’ve spoken to Scott and there’s a genuine interest,” he says. “He’d like to come in. And we’re pursuing that at the moment.
“I don’t think he’d mind me saying, I think he can improve definitely in terms of hold-up play. I’ve seen a lot of him for Brentford last year and I understood completely at the time when there was the hullabaloo about him coming in, he needed time to stay fit because of the number of problems he had with injury during his early 20s.
“But inside the box I think he knows where the goal is. He does. Some players do come alive in the box and I think he has that. That’s encouraging. Like everything else you need a bit of service but he can improve his overall game and I think he feels that himself
Asked about the player’s apparent change of heart in relation to his international allegiance over the past few months, O’Neill said there had been “an impasse,” but that the player had not been the one to blame.
He added, however, that “I understand that if you were born somewhere, this is where you might want to play first. He would not have been the first player who would have thought about England first of all and actually ended up doing well for Ireland”.
The player is, he concluded, “keen....really keen”.
Hogan started to come to prominence during a second spell at Rochdale and joined Brentford in the summer of 2014. He suffered a number of serious injury setbacks at the London club but made a strong start to last season, with 14 goals, before speculation about his future resulted in him being left out of the team.
Brentford appeared to price him out of a move to West Ham and he left instead for Villa where he managed just one goal in 13 over the four months that followed although he only played 90 minutes on a handful of occasions.
At his best, he looks strong, quick and good in the air and if he can indeed recover his form then he may well have a part to play for O’Neill who has made no secret of the importance he attaches to finding a new natural goalscorer for the Irish team.
He expressed the hope yesterday that Sean Maguire might take on the role a little further down the road but suggested the newly signed Preston striker’s first senior call-up might be best seen as a message to the 23-year-old that he is very much in the manager’s mind.
“I’d obviously like to see Maguire a wee bit. If you’re gonna ask me could I throw him into some of these games here, I don’t mind taking a chance but I think that would be risky, not only for us but maybe for the lad himself. I’m not saying he wouldn’t enjoy it but that’s the point.
“We’ve got the two games in three days and a couple of boys on yellow cards but I wanted to put the lads in there as much as a boost for people to think: ‘Hey, wait a minute, at least he’s thinking about me’.
West Ham defender Declan Rice, who came on against Manchester United on Sunday, appears to fall into much the same bracket with O’Neill speaking highly of an 18 year-old he says he sees as one for the future and confirming that he had left him to Under-21 manager Noel King on this occasion.