Tuesday 27 September 2016

Crocked Mac still worries O'Neill

Midfielder likely to miss Belarus game as UEFA deadline approaches

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill is pictured during the 1-1 draw against The Netherlands last Friday. Photo: PA
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill is pictured during the 1-1 draw against The Netherlands last Friday. Photo: PA
James McCarthy is pictured with Roy Keane during training last week

Who would be an international football manager? Just a few days before the UEFA deadline and Martin O'Neill is still weighing up his options.

After the 1-1 draw with Holland, it was hard to find any consensus about the relative merits of Harry Arter, David McGoldrick and Stephen Quinn and inside a mind prone to complexity like O'Neill's, a fearsome debate must be raging.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that James McCarthy is now, if anything, a slightly bigger concern for O'Neill than he was before the weekend and he didn't even play against Holland.

Nor is he likely to play against Belarus tomorrow in Turner's Cross and that leaves O'Neill stuck in the scenario all managers hate; having to rely on a player to make a call on fitness.

The Everton midfielder will travel unless his leg is in plaster but there appeared to be a hint of psychology at work when O'Neill suggested that the longer McCarthy doesn't train, the more it plays on his mind.

"James is just still felling the injury. He did a little bit on Friday morning and was still feeling it. We're going to have another look at some things and see how he is today," he said.

"Whether he is fit to play on Tuesday, I don't know. I didn't think it was a big concern but James is a lad who wants to participate in the games.

"I can say no more than that. I think he should be okay. I thought with plenty of confidence during the middle of the week, the news I was getting was that everything would be okay.

"I would only be slightly less confident," he said.

"The scans have been clear, the one at Everton and the one that we have done. That's reassuring.

"It doesn't mean everything is right," he said. "If you're still feeling something a little bit.

"I think that James is one of those lads who genuinely likes to be training and not missing a few days and then starts to get a wee bit worried if he's missed out for a while.

"So he hasn't actually joined in with us in these four days but I think he should still be okay.

O'Neill explained that McCarthy's injury is not a recurrence of an old knock and that managing it is not an option.

"This is something new, believe it or not. He's done that before and managed things. He missed the game against Scotland for us. This is a separate thing, something he hasn't had before," he said.

"I'll be guided by him and Alan (Byrne). The three matches in France come thick and fast. But I sometimes think you can't start thinking that every single player will be all right for every game, in an ideal world it would be great.

"But James is one those who have earned to right to be considered right to the last moment. At the start of the week I was very confident but I'm just a wee bit disconcerted that he felt it again.

"He's getting some work done and we'll see how he is. He went home for the weekend.

"I think things are alright. I think he'll be okay and worth waiting on.

"I don't think from what has been put forward by Alan and the medical staff that he will be ready for Tuesday unless there has been a dramatic improvement over the weekend," he said.

O'Neill's thoughts on the performance of the fringe men after the draw with the Dutch gave little away.

On the pitch, it was a mixed bag. Shane Duffy has his ticket and Harry Arter was busy, over-enthusiastic with his tackles and covered ground without seeing much of the ball.

Stephen Quinn rattled around the pitch in his usual, combative way and David McGoldrick showed flashes of what he can do but tired.

As we now know for sure, O'Neill likes the cultured Ipswich midfielder and covets his ability to ghost into the space between midfield and the edge of opposition penalty area, the Bermuda Triangle for defenders.

But he clearly needs to see an improvement in terms of fitness and Belarus has turned out to be an ideal add-on to O'Neill's initial schedule.

Spate

"The fixture wasn't there in the first place but the more I thought about the players, I thought there would be a spate of lads playing in the Championship play-offs," he said.

"We organised the game and I think it will be good. You can't foresee every situation.

"For instance, Jon Walters on Friday night. He really needed the game.

"He was blowing quite hard and he's a really fit boy."

O'Neill will take in Sweden's final warm-up against Wales in the Friends Arena in Stockholm on May 5 and he has noted the fact that UEFA have left an avenue open should any of the competing nations ship an injury before the tournament starts.

Presumably, this rule would also apply to James McCarthy.

"There is a rule. If you have the recent medical history of someone and they're not fit then you can change that," said the Ireland boss.

"I'm sure some of those teams will use that if they actually picked up an injury," he added.

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