Weddings, births and play-off final force Martin O’Neill to reassess
Republic of Ireland’s Anthony Stokes may be affected by a pending court hearing he is due to face on Thursday week
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill speaking during yesterday’s summer squad update announcement in Waterford. Photograph: Donall Farmer/inpho
At the end of his first run through yesterday of who will be available to him and when over the coming weeks, Martin O’Neill sounded like a man who was struggling to stay on top of it all himself.
The still new Republic of Ireland manager sees the games against Turkey, Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal as the opportunity he has waited for to reshape the squad he inherited late last year. However, births, weddings and a play-off final are set to play at least as big a part in dictating his team selections over the coming weeks as any grand plan for the team’s longer term future.
Around a third of the 29 players he named in the (slightly) revised squad will miss one or more of the games. James McCarthy and Darren Randolph join Joey O’Brien in missing them all due to fitness issues while Anthony Stokes is currently pencilled in for them all despite the potential for his schedule to be affected by the outcome of the court hearing he faces on Thursday week in relation to an alleged assault last year on an Elvis impersonator in a nightclub.
“Okay,” said O’Neill about the case of the Celtic striker. “One, I use the old maxim ‘innocent until proved guilty’ at this moment. Secondly, Anthony Stokes also called me to say that hopefully he wouldn’t be excluded from the squad because of this. And I said ‘absolutely not’. Just the same point as I make to you. I don’t know what’s going to be the outcome of it. But he’s in there at this moment and we’ll see what develops from there.”
Assuming he is about, there should be opportunities for Stokes to add to his eight international caps with Robbie Keane, Conor Sammon and Kevin Doyle amongst the other squad members who are unavailable for one or more games.
Doyle misses this weekend along with Sammon, Jeff Hendrick and Richard Keogh because of the play-off final after which all are expected to join up although in the case of the Derby striker it will only be for the Italy game as he is then getting married.
Tie the knot
Rob Elliott is due to tie the knot too and had actually arranged quite some time back to have his stag weekend in Las Vegas this weekend. His 16 friends are now travelling without him, though, and the goalkeeper has deferred his honeymoon so as to be available for all but the Italy game.
“We planned the stag do more than a year ago, before I had any involvement with Ireland,” he explained to the Newcastle United website. “You don’t think that far ahead but in football you never know what’s around the corner.
“Now the lads are all heading off without me but at least there’s a good reason why I’m not going on my own stag do, and I will be able to look back at it and laugh. I’ve had quite a bit of stick from my mates but you can’t put a price on international football. You have to make sacrifices and I would never jeopardise my chance of playing for my country.”
His wife to be, meanwhile, appears to have taken the interruption to their plans pretty well. “My fiancée is okay with it all,” he reveals, “and says it’s a good opportunity for me. We’ve delayed the honeymoon and she will meet me out in America after the final games to start from there.”
John O’Shea won’t make it that far with the Sunderland defender skipping the Stateside end of things due to his wife having recently had a baby while Robbie Keane won’t be involved until the squad makes it to America.
Like Elliott, the Stoke City contingent will miss the Italy game although in their case it is because Marc Wilson’s brother is getting married and he is the best man while, it seems, Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters are to be guests.
It should all make for an interesting start to the job for O’Neill’s ‘new’ coaching staff of Steve Walford and Steve Guppy who join up for the coming weeks during which, the manager says, he will mull over the possibility of keeping them on board for the qualifying campaign.
It’s scarcely a trial; he already knows them both well, especially Walford, the 56-year-old former Arsenal, Norwich and West Ham defender who has worked with him at Wycombe, Norwich, Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland. Guppy played under the pair of them at Leicester and Celtic before recruited to the coaching staff himself at the Stadium of Light.
“I’ve worked with Steve Walford for a long time,” acknowledged O’Neill, “and he’s a really terrific coach who has always got on pretty well with players and had a decent style about him. Guppy is up and coming with enthusiasm and a willingness to get out and do things. He’s very, very good.”