'I don't think Wes should quit yet'
But Ireland boss talks down Hoolahan with faint praise
Martin O'Neill does not want Wes Hoolahan to retire. But he doesn't believe he is a cure-all for Ireland's attempt to wipe the memory of Poland in 2012.
The Ireland boss went to some lengths to play down another significant performance from Hoolahan against Slovakia after the game and later continued the theme.
"When Wes is on form he is obviously an excellent addition to us and that's really good," said O'Neill.
He always chooses his words very carefully and the clear implication in this is that he doesn't see Hoolahan as part of his core group.
"I think he's not the only one who can actually play. We do have one or two others who can play and I think myself if Wes had started in a game in which we played just two midfield players, as we did the other night (against Switzerland), he might have struggled because we might not have been able to get the ball.
"Alan Judge worked tirelessly as I said before but we didn't get the ball often enough to him in positions where he could be really dangerous for us and I think that would be, in fairness to the lad, a disappointment.
"That could have happened against Slovakia as well so all the elements were right for someone to get on the ball," he added.
O'Neill was asked to frame Hoolahan's contribution in the context of the qualifying series and the idea that when he is playing, Ireland have more self-belief, as indicated by the gap between the performances in the Easter friendlies.
"I think there were a number of reasons for that. We were going to be outnumbered in midfield the other night and of course I wanted little Alan Judge to play in the game too and Aiden McGeady."
"So we were going to be outnumbered there. I didn't hear a complaint from Meyler or young Quinny about this. The Swiss played it and played it exceptionally well, as befits a side who are 12th in the world."
"So against Slovakia, we were not going to be outnumbered from the start in there and with the system we had, we were going to have a fair amount of the ball."
O'Neill's curious insistence that Hoolahan should not be singled out for praise was at odds with his heartfelt appeal to the Norwich midfielder to continue his international career.
Hoolahan hinted that Euro 2016 might be his final tournament and that he would decide when the dust settles on France but O'Neill feels he should carry on.
"That's entirely up to him. I would be surprised really, I must admit.," he said.
"There would be no call from me to end his international career. In fairness, Wes is kind of young. He hasn't exactly played an awful lot of games at the end of the day. I think he's a young 62-year-old," he said, laughing.
"He's 33 years of age. He's still young. He has a young face and he would pass for an 18 or 20-year-old.
"If it comes around to us and that's what he's feeling, okay, but I would say there's no reason to consider it at the minute."
O'Neill believes that club concerns and the wish to prolong the day-to-day involvement on the pitch may be in Hoolahan's thoughts.
"I think what happens is that after the tournament is over, people start to consider a lot of things. It depends where he is at club level. Those things are very, very important and at this stage I think he would like to be playing more often.
"Maybe he misses out a few games at Norwich and I'm hoping that that will be of benefit to us.
"That's the selfish part of this, he stays fresh. But I think Wes would want to play all the time if he could, certainly at club level," added O'Neill.
"You've surprised me. Not only does he look young but he has maybe not played an enormous number of games for a 33-year-old, for one reason or another. If he is considering it, he should consider it in a positive light."
O'Neill knows that he will have a fraught few weeks in front of him, fretting about Hoolahan and all his players' fitness.
"Naturally, from here on in because time now is closing up and any reported injuries, I'll just curse my luck and get on with it, I can't do anything about it," said the Ireland boss.