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Wednesday 22 August 2018

'LOI players have to earn right': Martin

O'Neill looks to fringe for Parkhead return

CHANCE TO IMPRESS: Shamrock Rovers striker Graham Burke will get a chance to shine in Scott Brown’s testimonial tomorrow at Celtic Park. Photo: Sportsfile
CHANCE TO IMPRESS: Shamrock Rovers striker Graham Burke will get a chance to shine in Scott Brown’s testimonial tomorrow at Celtic Park. Photo: Sportsfile

It will be a case of the wearing of the green for Shamrock Rovers man Graham Burke in Glasgow tomorrow as Martin O'Neill plans to look at the former Aston Villa man up close.

But the Republic of Ireland boss has defended his record on calling up home-based players, dismissing claims that he will only hand out caps to players once they move abroad.

An Ireland XI will take on Celtic tomorrow (2pm) in Scott Brown's testimonial. Seeing as the Bhoys are involved in the Scottish Cup final today and may be celebrating a treble well into the night, it's hard to imagine how sharp Celtic will be for tomorrow's game with fringe players and guests like Henrik Larsson likely to feature.

Stars will also be also hard to find in the Ireland squad, as the 18-man panel named by O'Neill for the game has as many players who played in England's third tier last season as played in the Premier League (four).

Burke is due to play for his club away to Sligo Rovers tonight and then head to Scotland for a chance to impress along with new recruit Callum Robinson (Preston).

It's been argued that O'Neill only hands a chance at senior level to players such as Sean Maguire and Daryl Horgan once they leave the League of Ireland but O'Neill denies that.

"I have included LOI players, I included the goalkeeper at the end of the day, so I don't think you can level that at me," he says, referring to the (uncapped) Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers.

"There is that view, seemingly, that I only put the players in when they move abroad. I didn't do that. I saw Sean Maguire play [for Cork City] and, let's be fair, Sean didn't play well enough to be included in the squad.

"I don't think you can just include every single League of Ireland player when they play well in two of three games. There is a fairly decent chance that if you are playing at the top echelon of the game you are probably going to impress a bit more.

"Sean didn't play well in the games I saw him play in, it wasn't to do with the fact that he moved to Preston, but what he was doing when he moved to Preston, he regularly played better. So that's the point.

"Graham Burke was a kid when I went to Aston Villa. Seamus McDonagh tells me, in 2010, I might even have included him in a pre-season game which had a sprinkling of first team players. But it's not my fault that he's back playing for Shamrock Rovers - sometimes the player might want to have a think about that."

O'Neill has tapped deep into the resources to get a squad for tomorrow's game, with first call-ups for LOI graduates Conor O'Malley (Peterborough) and Shaun Williams (Millwall) as well as Burke and Robinson. Senior players have been given an extended holiday before reporting for duty ahead of Monday week's friendly away to France but there is an opportunity in goal as Keiren Westwood (injury) and Darren Randolph (operation on an injury) are both absent for the France/USA double header.

And O'Neill feels there is value in this game, despite the clash with Celtic's (likely) treble celebrations.

"I think there could be a great euphoria if Celtic can win the Cup. I remember Jackie McNamara's testimonial. It seemed a half-decent game, I must admit," O'Neill says of that 2005 testimonial, his last game in charge at Celtic.

"I know there'll be a few changes during the course of the game and we'll want to make some substitutions at half-time but as an exercise and in terms of the crowd too - I think there'll be a full house - the players should be able to get something out of it. You have to treat it as a sort of a friendly game but I'm hoping there's going to be a bit of motivation on both sides to try and do something."

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