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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Sticky Toffees dilemma must be sorted

Ireland midfielder James McCarthy (left) will stay with his club Everton as Ireland prepare for Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria
Ireland midfielder James McCarthy (left) will stay with his club Everton as Ireland prepare for Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria

Why is it that Martin O'Neill's media schedule for the week doesn't begin until Friday?

Could it be that James McCarthy is out of the Ireland squad for Austria and he doesn't want to answer questions about it?

O'Neill has also lost Stephen Ward but John O'Shea has been named in a somewhat reduced 28-man squad which, presumably, will be whittled down further.

It would seem that Ronald Koeman has got his way and whether that is simply down to a slow recovery by McCarthy or the Everton boss cracking the whip is hard to tell.

Let's be honest, the main reason everyone is hot and bothered about McCarthy is down to history.

This time, he has a decent sick note Koeman had ample justification for nudging him in that direction.

Right or wrong, he believes that two tough qualifying games had a direct impact on his player's fitness and left him vulnerable to further setbacks.

Puzzled

Since the hamstring strain happened while he was in a blue shirt, O'Neill could be forgiven for being puzzled and publicly wondering what happened McCarthy when he returned to Goodison after Moldova.

But the real problem O'Neill and Ireland fans have with Koeman is as much to do with Roberto Martinez and a litany of similar events involving Irish players at Goodison Park than anything else.

Koeman has a point. McCarthy has had injury issues for a number of years now and Martinez went to great lengths to protect him for Everton, so much so that we ended up in an unseemly media shouting match with Giovanni Trapattoni and Goodison Park.

Sources suggest that McCarthy's problem is rooted in an older injury which was not properly addressed in Martinez's time but there's also a strong likelihood that McCarthy is suffering from the impact of playing 400 senior games before his 26th birthday which, ironically, is on Saturday, the same day that Ireland meet Austria.

He has had a series of soft tissue injuries, including one potentially career- threatening tear inside a groin muscle. His latest knock is in the same area.

Koeman pinned his colours to the mast on McCarthy when he picked him as a wing-back in the first month of the season and then dropped him.

He may well see McCarthy as a link in the chain which will bring another player to Everton if he can get him fit and sell him in the January transfer window.

Koeman is under pressure after a promising start to his new job took a negative turn in late September, struggling under the weight all Toffees managers have had to deal with at a club with a fantastic tradition but very little money.

Everton's inconsistency this season reached an inglorious peak at the weekend when they were ripped to shreds by Chelsea and it didn't help Koeman that Jurgen Klopp's lads battered Watford to a pulp at Anfield.

Of course, none of this should be of any concern to O'Neill who has a job to do and World Cup points to chase.

He was quite surprised when it was pointed out to him that Everton have been a source of aggravation for almost six years now.

The truth is that this has been allowed to fester and what might have been considered a reasonable request from Koeman, seemed like just another Everton moan.

Under normal circumstances and given the very clear FIFA and UEFA rules governing player availability, O'Neill shouldn't even entertain the notion of having a sit down with a Premier League manager to sort out issues.

But it would make sense for someone to talk to Everton and thrash this out, preferably a senior FAI figure or perhaps some like Kevin Sheedy and not O'Neill.

McCarthy himself is in an awful bind, damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

It is very heartening indeed that his commitment to the cause is such that he arrived in Dublin a month ago itching to play and seemingly, against the wishes of his club manager.

There was a time under Trapattoni when Martinez offered him a way out, particularly at season's end when Ireland's fixture schedule lingered into June and he took it.

But perhaps he has made his own mind up about where he stands with Koeman and fancies a change of scenery.

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