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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Everton Irish are the key to Martin O'Neill's ambition

James McCarthy the main man for Martinez at Goodison Park

MARTIN O'Neill could be forgiven if he restricts his scouting for the foreseeable future to Goodison Park or wherever Everton are playing when they're not at Goodison Park.

James McCarthy is the main man for Roberto Martinez and with Seamus Coleman and Aiden McGeady, a key to qualification for O'Neill.

He is growing steadily under Gareth Barry's wing and a manager who wants to hold onto him as long as he can. But big cheque books are hovering, most notably, Manchester United's.

News of talks between McCarthy and Everton about a new deal comes just as O'Neill names his squad for the upcoming Euro 2016 jolly against Gibraltar and a much more forbidding fixture against the Germans in Gelsenkirchen.

Right now, the idea of a move to Old Trafford doesn't seem like the best plan but the main thing is that McCarthy is now seen as a viable option for Champions League football.

He's getting Europa Cup football and has two mates from the Ireland squad close at hand so he can't be unhappy at Goodison. That said, it could be that Coleman too will be on his way before too long.

SPECULATION

But that's all speculation. For now, we watch while McCarthy improves and hope that the weakness in his game identified by John Giles and Ronnie Whelan fades with time.

He's a reserved, quiet lad and it doesn't come naturally for him to seek the limelight so to demand the ball in the way two Irish football legends want him to may not be as easy as it sounds.

This is a kid with more natural talent than Roy Keane but very little of the assertiveness which the Corkman deployed as a weapon on the field. As the bearded one observed a few weeks back, he can only be what he is.

It is fortunate indeed that McCarthy is now working with three men who all plied their trade in midfield and to a very high level. Martinez, O'Neill and Keane may not want to or be able to change his personality but he won't lack for good advice.

McCarthy's importance to O'Neill cannot be understated, even if the Ireland boss played him so far forward in Tbilisi that he was lost for long spells in the game and much less effective than he has been previously.

That is unlikely to happen again. Giovanni Trapattoni briefly had similar notions about where McCarthy could play but as soon as he decided to take the player seriously, he quickly established him as first choice in central midfield and picked him to start there in nine of the ten Brazil 2014 qualifiers. He missed the home game against the Faroes through suspension.

So expect to see McCarthy restored to his best role for the home game against Gibraltar and again for a daunting trip to Germany, made perhaps less worrisome by Scotland's efforts there in the first series of games.

O'Neill named a big squad again and must sit patiently, like all international managers do and pray that all theimportant names on his list are still on it in three weeks time when he needs them.

The collective wisdom before Georgia was that Jeff Hendrick was in O'Neill mind as a starter. The news on him is good following his shoulder injury.

Derby are hopeful that he will play against Millwall on October 4 which would allow him to get a run out against Gibraltar to prove his fitness.

It is worth remembering that this time last year, Noel King was in temporary charge and Giovanni Trapattoni counting his euros in Milan, happy in the knowledge that he had left a bunch of no-hopers behind but had maintained his reputation as a great man of football.

Lads like Hendrick and indeed Stephen Quinn hardly got a sniff under Trapattoni and If we've made progress in any area since O'Neill and Keane took over, it's the fact that Irish players now look at the squad as a target rather than a closed shop.

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