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Thursday 17 August 2017

a sticky situation

Toffees trio crucial to Ireland plan for Scots but O'Neill and Martinez not on same page

MARTIN O'Neill will use all available options open to him to make sure James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman turn up in Dublin next month - fit or not fit.

And now, O'Neill must also factor Darron Gibson into the equation after Roberto Martinez flatly denied that the injury which the Ireland boss spoke about during his squad announcement for next month's big showdown with Scotland was real.

A statement like that should make O'Neill sit up. Martinez said the same thing about McCarthy a few weeks ago and look what happened in that case.

O'Neill was responding to questions about Kevin Kilbane's angry response to the fact that both McCarthy and Coleman missed Ireland's draw with Germany but turned up fit for their club four days later.

"I have no problems resorting to all the things that are available to me if and when it becomes available," said O'Neill when it was pointed out that Giovanni Trapattoni insisted that all his players show up regardless of their club's advice.

But there is still the sense that O'Neill is a couple of steps behind Roberto Martinez on this issue and we will back in the same territory in ten days time when his players gather in Malahide in advance of the game against Scotland.

"I spoke to Roberto. In my time as manager, I think I have tried to look after players as well as possible. Being a club manager myself, the last thing you want is a player going off and getting injured," he said.

"For example, Richard Keogh felt something or other we couldn't pinpoint. He reckoned it would be ok and wanted to stay. Daryl Murphy the same.

"In the case of the Everton lads, sometimes you have to give the club the benefit of the doubt until told otherwise."

The point is that O'Neill doesn't need to give the benefit of the doubt and regardless of how fond his memories of his time in club management might be, he is an international boss now and he doesn't have to be fair. He just needs to follow the rules.

Do as Giovanni Trapattoni did and tell everyone to turn up for a medical. That way, there is no room for misunderstandings and he can make a call with full knowledge at his fingertips.

"I have no problem with that if I feel it is a particular way to go but this time, having spoken to our doc and Everton physio, but more importantly to Seamus, I had no doubt he wanted to get the injury cleared up," said O'Neill.

"I didn't speak to James. He was in squad for Man United but according to Everton physio, he had very little chance of playing and he didn't."

There has been something of a smokescreen around McCarthy and Coleman for the last few weeks and Martinez has always been happy to throw some damp newsprint on the fire. Kilbane's intervention was very significant. From his time at Goodison Park, there is no doubt that his contacts at Everton would be very good and if he felt the need to make a strong point on the subject, he must believe that either or both players could have been available for the game in Germany.

This backs up indications from other sources who were adamant that McCarthy, at least, would have been able to face the German. There is an easy comparison to be made with Glenn Whelan in all of this. Battered, bruised and constantly berated for pulling on a green shirt and doing what he is told to do by the Ireland manager of the day, he is trying everything he can to shrug off a fracture in his leg to be in Dublin in a few weeks.

You don't get the impression that McCarthy is willing to do the same. That may well be unfair but it's certainly the image presented.

Martinez's influence seems stronger than anything else, even an international call-up for a crucial game and it cannot be said that he has the best interests of Ireland at heart. He is doing his job and trying to get the most he can out of McCarthy and Coleman for Everton and while that cannot in itself be faulted, there is a point where O'Neill needs to draw a line. So far, he hasn't done it.

Just as Whelan displays a dedication to playing for his country which is wonderful, his club boss Mark Hughes also makes Martinez look like a bit of a harpy.

When asked about Whelan's injury shortly after it happened, he shrugged and suggested that his man would probably be out for six weeks, but would want to play for Ireland in less than three. Hughes didn't rule it out, he never once suggested that he would stop Whelan travelling.

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