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Thursday 19 October 2017

Is Richard done for?

Ireland manager O'Neill welcomes Gibson return but Dunne future unclear

IS this no country for old men?

There certainly seems to be a question there as far as Martin O'Neill is concerned as he admits he is unsure of what role that thirty-somethings Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane will play in the immediate future for the national team.

O'Neill has been in Ireland a lot recently, taking in a couple of games involving League of Ireland clubs - and it will certainly have been a massive boost for 16-year-old Evan Osam, son of St Pats legend Paul, to know that he has been name-checked by O'Neill after he witnessed the youngster's debut for Shamrock Rovers - and O'Neill was on FAI duty again yesterday, showing his face around the midlands ahead of today's AGM in Athlone.

With no August international for Ireland, for the first time since 1999, it's all about the September 7th qualifier in Georgia, with a warm-up friendly at home to Oman four days earlier.

O'Neill didn't say outright if he knows what XI he will pick, injuries permitting, for that date in Tbilisi, merely stating that he knows more about his players now having spent time with them in that four-game series of matches in May/June.

Darron Gibson is in his thoughts as he steps up his recovery from a season-ending injury last year but whether Dunne and Keane, who are now both aged 34, will be in the team remains to be seen.

Asked if Dunne, who has yet to play for Ireland under O'Neill, had a future with the Republic, O'Neill left the matter in the air.

"Last season, he hardly missed a game for QPR but didn't play for us," O'Neill says.

"I know about his ability. I have said this before but I'm in no position, to exclude people. Sometimes people with ability might exclude themselves."

The fact that Dunne will turn 35 just after the Georgia game and was not involved in the friendly games over the summer suggests that his Ireland days could be up, and while Keane remains in O'Neill's plans, it's not certain that means he will be in the team. "He is the one that scores the goals though he missed a penalty at Costa Rica and maybe wasn't his best at the time, that match might not be the best," O'Neill explained. "Robbie Keane is a goal scorer, he can score goals certainly for the Republic of Ireland and I'm not in a position to turn people away. I will have to manage that situation to see whether he is capable of playing X number of games at that time. He's 34-years of age, he's not getting any younger. But I'll look at it closer to that time."

But the sight of Gibson in action for Everton in pre-season, having missed nine months of football after suffering a knee injury while playing for Ireland against Kazakhstan last year, is good news for O'Neill.

"I know it's been a lengthy time and it's something that we'd monitor but I think the lad has got enough ability to be in our squad anyway, if fully fit. At least he's performing now and you would hope that if he's able to keep up with the rest of the Everton players and he's actually performing for them then there's no reason why he shouldn't feel fit enough."

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