Aston Villa star Ciaran Clark determined to win starting spot for Republic of Ireland
CIARÁN Clark will try to use the next month of Premier League action to play his way into Martin O'Neill's plans for the Euro 2016 double header against Gibraltar and Georgia.
The opening weekend of the new Premier League season in England was bleak enough from an Irish viewpoint, with just eight players from the Republic starting for their clubs and two more appearing as subs, though James McClean is expected to add to that tally by playing for West Brom against Manchester City tonight.
O'Neill, looking ahead to those must-win games in September, will be pleased to see Shane Long's impact at Southampton already as the striker came off the bench to score in their 2-2 draw away to Newcastle United, Long nabbing the equaliser 11 minutes from time.
But it will be a concern to the Irish boss that three of the back five likely to start in the September qualifiers were not involved for their clubs.
Shay Given and John O'Shea were unused subs for Stoke City and Sunderland in their defeats, while Marc Wilson was not fit enough to join the Stoke squad for their clash with Liverpool.
Wilson suffered an ankle injury in a pre-season game and was unable to train with City last week, though boss Mark Hughes does not expect the defender to be out long term.
But O'Shea's demotion to the bench for Sunderland will be a concern, and that could open the door for Clark, who has yet to make a real impact at senior international level and has made only a handful of appearances in competitive games.
The 25-year-old put in a solid display for Villa (who had no room for Jack Grealish in their squad) in their 1-0 win away to Bournemouth - the Cherries were without Harry Arter due to injury but the uncapped Eunan O'Kane came on for his Premier League debut.
And Villa boss Tim Sherwood said afterwards that he was impressed with the partnership of Clark and Micah Richard at the back.
"I was pleased," Sherwood said. "I said to the boys before the game that if no one has a shot at goal in the first period then I'm quite happy.
"They created some chances and Brad Guzan had to be on his toes. We needed him. The two centre-backs, though, were fantastic. They were solid as a rock, what I expect."
Defender Damien Delaney scored for Crystal Palace in their win away to Norwich but, at 34, Delaney's international career is effectively over and he has not been selected in recent squads.
Norwich boss Alex Neil picked Robbie Brady to pla at left back in that game and with Stephen Ward left on the bench by Burnley, Brady is expected to retain his left back slot for the qualifiers.