The new season is barely up and running but Martin O'Neill admits that his usual concerns regarding players getting to play at club level are already as pressing as ever, with international regulars like James McCarthy, Shane Long and Jon Walters still unsure of how much they might feature in the Premier League this season.
Both Long and McCarthy have been linked with possible moves, but even a switch does not guarantee a starting place as the Southampton striker has found before, and Walters might just be discovering his new club Burnley.
“I spoke to James very recently and he is feeling fine,” says O’Neill of the Everton midfielder who missed the end of last season through injury and who failed to make even the bench for his club’s opening game of the new campaign against Stoke on Saturday.”
“He hasn’t got a lot of game time. He has played some part in pre-season but he’s feeling fine. I think his manager said that he wasn’t fit enough for selection this particular week but I think he meant match fitness more than anything else. But we’ve got another fortnight; you never know what might materialise over that.”
Speaking about Shane Long, who was an unused sub in the scoreless draw with Swansea, O’Neill said: “Shane has got competition for places there at Southampton; he’s had that since he went there. Shane hasn’t played an awful lot of pre-season so I just hope he’s fit. Shane is a naturally fit lad so there aren’t too many concerns although it would be nice if players were playing a little bit more regularly.”
O'Neill says that he is happy to see Aiden McGeady looking as though he is going to be a regular starter at Sunderland but Darron Gibson, who is omitted from this Ireland squad, has started both of the Championship side's league games so far on the bench. Meanwhile Walters, a key figure in the international team over the past couple of years, made only a late appearance in Burnley's defeat of Chelsea.
Others have, like McGeady, seemed set to benefit from summer moves with Darren Randolph, Cyrus Christie and Daryl Murphy featuring prominently and playing well over the first couple of weeks of the new Championship campaign. O'Neill also highlighted the fact that centre-halves Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy both started for their respective clubs while goalkeeper Rob Elliot also featured for Newcastle.
“Rob’s been out for a long time,” he said, “but he’s had the opportunity over the summer to get properly fit and he’s taken his place in the Newcastle team yesterday which is encouraging”.
Meanwhile, the manager believes that Ireland, who play Georgia away then group leaders Serbia at home before finishing their campaign with games against Moldova and Wales in October, need to finish the group strongly if they are to qualify.
“It’s the tough end now. We have some points on the board but these games are going to make ferocious inroads into the group. These are difficult matches coming. We probably need to remain unbeaten if we can and probably need to win three out of the four games if we can.”