Shane Long’s fine form the key for Martin O’Neill
Winger Callum O’Dowda gets surprise call-up to preliminary squad for Euro 2016
Martin O’Neill on Shane Long: “The goal against Germany has given him an enormous lift.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Rank the squad Martin O’Neill named yesterday and young Callum O’Dowda might well have to settle for number 35, although the 21-year-old Oxford United winger would surely, in football parlance, have taken that before he heard the news.
There are a few in this preliminary group who will be less sure of or happy about their current standing given that the list is currently 12 too long for the European Championships.
Others can relax. Jon Walters was described by the manager yesterday as Ireland’s “talisman” through the campaign. As he discussed those who are still battling injury ahead of the friendly games with the Netherlands and Belarus, O’Neill gave the impression that Séamus Coleman, currently out of the Everton team with a hamstring problem, could suffer just about anything up to an amputation between now and May 31st, when the manager must finalise his travelling party, and still get a seat on the plane.
There was a time when Shane Long’s precise standing in this squad was rather less certain, but not anymore. The 29-year-old was never going to miss out on the trip but might well have faced the prospect of tense nights on the bench.
After the best half season of his career, though, the Southampton striker is firmly in the manager’s favourite XI. Number nine sounds just about right.
Long started the season in slightly stop-start fashion but has been in outstanding form in recent months, with club manager Ronald Koeman observing last week that his pace, timing and movement had all benefited from the effort he has put in on the training ground.
O’Neill says he has taken the advice he has received on international duty on board too and that much of the confidence evident this season is the product of his winner in the key qualifier against the world champions last October.
“The goal against Germany has given him an enormous lift,” he says. “I said to you a way back two and a half years ago that of the squad I inherited, some of the players would make it through, a number would fall by the wayside but that hopefully some can improve. Has Shane gone on to do it? I’m absolutely delighted he’s done so.
“When he was in the squad at times I wondered if he had the great belief in himself. He was at Reading, West Brom, Hull, not at Hull that long, and he might have started to think ‘do any of the club managers fancy me?’ So maybe he had that to overcome.
“My advice to him was quite simple, really; at club level these are the things you might want to improve on. One of the most important things for a centre forward is to get hold of the ball, that’s what I was taught.
“A manager called Brian Clough, who just happened to be one of the best managers of all time, came in and insisted that his centre forward could get hold of the ball. If he can get hold of it and then makes it really difficult for the centre half to get it off him, it means then that you can start playing further up the pitch.
“This was my message to Shane every single time. ‘Get hold of it. You have other assets and those assets will be magnified if you get hold of it. You’ve got the pace so you don’t have to worry about stealing a yard or two on someone because you’ve got the pace to get in behind.’
“He has taken that on in the last three or four months and if he’s going into a tournament [in his current form] then that can only be good news for us.”
For others the anxious wait for a yea or nay will continue for another few weeks. Marc Wilson will see a specialist today to determine if he still has a serious shot at being fit, while Shay Given is back in training. O’Neill, though, made clear that first-team football would carry more weight than mere training.
The manager confirmed yesterday that he is scheduled to put the borderline cases out of their misery on the day after the Dutch game, but admitted that he might wait a few days when the deadline is looming.
O’Dowda won’t be expecting to make the cut but, like Jack Byrne previously, benefits from the manager’s policy of giving up and coming players a taste of life around the senior squad.
Republic of Ireland squad
Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Stoke City, 133 caps / 0 goals), Darren Randolph (West Ham United, 8/0), David Forde (Millwall, 23/0), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday, 18/0).
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton, 33/0), Cyrus Christie (Derby County, 4/1), Paul McShane (Reading, 33/0), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa, 16/2), Richard Keogh (Derby County, 11/1), John O'Shea (Sunderland,110/3), Alex Pearce (Bristol City*, 7/2), Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers, 2/0), Marc Wilson (Stoke City, 24/1), Stephen Ward (Burnley, 32/2)
Midfielders: Aiden McGeady (Sheffield Wednesday*, 81/5), James McClean (West Bromwich Albion, 36/5), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City, 70/2), James McCarthy (Everton, 35/0), Jeff Hendrick (Derby County, 19/0), David Meyler (Hull City, 15/0), Stephen Quinn (Reading, 14/0), Darron Gibson (Everton, 25/1), Harry Arter (Bournemouth, 1/0), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City, 28/2), Eunan O'Kane (Bournemouth, 2/0), Anthony Pilkington (Cardiff City, 9/1), Robbie Brady (Norwich City, 22/4), Jonathan Walters (Stoke City, 38/10), Jonathan Hayes (Aberdeen, 2/0), Callum O'Dowda (Oxford United, 0/0)
Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy, 143/67), Shane Long (Southampton, 61/15), David McGoldrick (Ipswich Town, 2/0), Kevin Doyle (Colorado Rapids, 62/14), Daryl Murphy (Ipswich Town, 20/0)
*Indicates player is currently on loan