Stephen Ward the major concern for O’Neill as Ireland squad assembles

Burnley defender faces ankle procedure as he sits out first Republic training session

While his Polish counterpart faced a stormy fallout from Jakub Blaszczykowski’s strongest showing yet this season for Borussia Dortmund, Martin O’Neill started his preparations for this weekend’s Poland game amid the calm of Malahide.

The Northerner’s reluctance to cull players meant that he seemed to have them everywhere on or around the training ground as the group went through their paces for the first time this week.

Stephen Ward started the session looking on from the dugout, though, and was amongst the first to leave.

Afterwards, the manager said that a problem with the screws inserted into his ankle late last year as a result of break are causing him discomfort and Burnley have given permission for him to have the issue addressed here this week.


It will mean, he said, a couple of days on the sidelines and while O’Neill insisted he hasn’t given up hope of the Dubliner being available next Sunday, it now looks, given how little he has played of late, like quite the long-shot.

Causes of concern

The other causes of concern here were

Darron Gibson


Glenn Whelan

with the former sitting the session out after complaining of a groin problem and the latter obliged to take it very easy due to a hamstring issue.

O’Neill said the long run up to the match means the pair have every chance of recovering their fitness. But the fact that they are both candidates to partner James McCarthy in midfield must be of some concern to the manager who has options, most obviously Marc Wilson, at left back in the event that Ward does not make a miraculous return.

The former Sunderland boss preferred, in any case, to look on the bright side with Aiden McGeady and Robbie Brady both providing him with news to talk up. Having featured through the closing stages against Chelsea on Sunday, the Hull City player hit the ground running here, taking an active part in what O'Neill said had been a lively session.

McGeady was also involved although the midfielder, it seems, was not as injured at the weekend as most had presumed when he failed even to make the bench for the game at Loftus Road.

Club’s permission

“Stephen has got a bit of a problem with his ankle,” he said. “We think we’re getting to the bottom of it now with a couple of scans. He’s heading off with the club’s permission with Alan, our doctor, this evening and I think he’s getting a little operation.

“He has some screws in there which are irritating him at the moment. They’re sorting that out; that should be a couple of days. The length of time he’s played, and the little game time that he has had would be a bit of a concern.”

Brady, he said, had done well to bounce back from a point just a week ago where Steve Bruce had effectively ruled him out of the game. But McGeady, he suggested, is simply out of favour at this stage at Everton.

“Aiden has had the knee problem but I think he’s been fit,” he said. “He did the work, exactly the same work that Robbie did and he’s come through that fine so I don’t think that that was the reason that he was not playing yesterday.”

Harry Arter, Jon Walters and Robbie Keane all missed yesterday's session with the Bournemouth midfielder staying in London while his pregnant partner had a scan but all three should have checked in in plenty of time to be involved this morning.

Arter, he said, had significantly increased his chances of being involved at the weekend thanks to his club form since the squad was announced.

“Initially, I thought that I would just bring him in and give him a bit of experience around the squad but he’s been playing really well. He’s keen, really keen, he’s delighted to be involved in it and I genuinely will see.”

Blaszczykowski form


Adam Nawalka

, Blaszczykowski’s recent improvement at club level is probably less welcome with the Polish coach starting his week under renewed media pressure regarding his controversial decision to leave the 29-year-old out of his squad.

Blaszczykowski’s original omission was a surprise given that he was edging his way back from a long spell out injured and things were not helped by the vagueness of Nawalka’s explanation that the team’s former skipper was not mentally or physically fit enough.

In Poland, though, there is a widespread belief that the player’s famously poor relationship with the man who took over the armband, Robert Lewandowski, is the real reason he has been passed over.

Nawalka is reported to have met with Blaszczykowski in Dortmund and sought agreement that, if selected, he would appear at a press conference and say all was well within the group but when the winger refused, the coach opted to press on without him in the squad instead.

Given the problems he had previously caused Ireland, O’Neill should probably be grateful. Then again, his absence didn’t do much for the Germans last year.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times