Thursday 18 January 2018

Martin O'Neill: I'll convince English born players to declare for Republic

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill

MARTIN O'Neill would place a direct call to Chelsea prospect and current Middlesbrough top scorer Patrick Bamford to offer him a fast track to senior international football if he thought it would make a difference.

Bamford has been in red-hot form during his loan spell at Middlesbrough and although he played at Under 18 level for Ireland, he switched to the England under-age set-up and his form in the Championshiop has prompted some speculation about senior recognition from Roy Hodgson.

After the trail leading Harry Kane to a green shirt ran dry for the perfectly good reason that the Spurs striker wanted to play for England, regardless of his Irish qualifications, O'Neill is clearly ready to be more proactive if he thinks it might make a difference.

"If I thought I would serve my purpose and the connections were there, absolutely. Maybe if it made a difference in persuasion by saying you could not only step into our side but be playing top quality international football before you could play for someone else, absolutely," said O'Neill.

Whether that means that plans are afoot to have a chat with Bamford remains to be seen: "I wouldn't tell you who I'd be doing that with," he said.

READ MORE: Martin O'Neill: 'I'll manage the Republic of Ireland my way'

O'Neill remains agnostic about Jack Grealish but makes a clear distinction between a case like Bamford where contact has lapsed and the Villa youngster who has been through the Ireland under-age set-up from a young age.

He welcomed the fact that Grealish is now getting a game for Villa and could start in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool but is still waiting on a declaration of intent..

"My position has changed but for someone that young getting a chance to start in an FA Cup semi-final has to be good news. At international level, it will take a wee more time."

The Ireland boss is hoping Shay Given will continue his FA Cup run and thinks that the veteran will be actively seeking a new club this summer.

"In conversations that I've had, he feels that he's been given a new lease of life at international level and in FA Cup matches and proven to himself that he's capable of doing it at a very, very decent level, that must have given him some food for thought.

"David Forde has certainly not let me down. I just thought at this minute with David, the problems are not all of his doing, absolutely not, at Millwall.

"It's been a really tough year for them so other than that there, and although David has plenty of experience, you can't beat what Shay has had now at his age."

Does that mean that Given is now the de facto No 1?

"I don't know, we'll see," said O'Neill, as always, hedging his bets.

O'Neill also fended off criticism of James McCarthy from Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady by first accepting their right to an opinion but then pointing out that the Everton midfielder hasn't played many games for Ireland under his watch and is still a work in progress.

"I wanted him to impose himself and I thought he did that in the second half against Poland. That should give him a lift at international level.

"He hasn't played that often for us, it was an opportunity for me to see him at this level. I wanted a performance that would influence the game and thought in the second half he got a grip of that.

"The rest of it? Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Sometimes you have to take it in your stride. Hopefully outside comments won't stop him from wanting to wear the shirt."

O'Neill will have to wait to find out if Darron Gibson has any chance of being fit for the England and Scotland games in June.

"My doctor has been in touch with Everton and they have said it's a lengthy injury. I need to find out exactly what that is.

"Realistically, he hasn't played much. He's been unfortunate and his contract is out, so naturally he could be concerned about what's going to happen him at club level."

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