Thursday 14 December 2017

McCarthy recurring hamstring problems ongoing concern for O'Neill

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill arrives to announce his 37-man squad at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill arrives to announce his 37-man squad at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

Martin O'Neill has a call to make on James McCarthy and it's a difficult one.

Fit, he starts for Ireland against Austria on June 11 with World Cup points at issue but if there is any doubt at all, the megaphone will be in Ronald Koeman's fist in a flash.

He might fly in for a one-on-one with O'Neill if McCarthy played in any of the forthcoming series against Mexico on June 1, Uruguay three days later or the big one, Austria, now just over three weeks away and broke down with a hamstring strain.

Just about every name except Sean Maguire and Cillian Sheridan is in O'Neill's squad but McCarthy was always likely to be the point of interest.

The player's best interests should be front and centre in all of this and it is entirely possibly that McCarthy is not the best judge of what is best for McCarthy right now.

Martin O’Neill has a decision to make on whether to take chance on James McCarthy for the upcoming matches in early June.
Martin O’Neill has a decision to make on whether to take chance on James McCarthy for the upcoming matches in early June.

Perhaps if he was thinking selfishly and perhaps he should, he would take the summer off, rest up and allow his much abused muscles to heal fully, get through pre-season without any tweaks or twinges and hit the new Premier League season running.

The worry is that no matter how much recuperation he allows himself, he has an ongoing and intractable injury problem which will limit his consistency.

When this time rolls around, every year for the last five or six McCarthy has been a story for one reason or another and most of them have involved muscle strains and bitter words travelling to and fro across the Irish Sea.

Things have changed. The version of McCarthy who caused Giovanni Trapattoni to blunder into tribal matters he knew and cared nothing about when he questioned his commitment, was on the way up.

Roberto Martinez was certain he was protecting the best young Premier League midfielder of his generation when he wrapped him in wool.

This McCarthy is at a crossroads and because of Koeman's ill-tempered and obtuse reaction to his involvement in international football, club and country have formed a poisonous bond which could cost him his place at Everton.

O'Neill must be sharply aware of all of this and while he didn't exactly send doves winging their way to Goodison Park, he had no rhetoric for a headline and preferred to focus on McCarthy who has yet to return to full training but has been named in the Ireland squad for the upcoming summer schedule.

"James is in the squad at the moment. He hasn't been in full training for some time but I think he's going into full training this week. So I think this week will decide a lot. We still have time," he said.

"He obviously wouldn't be involved in their last game but they've scanned him. I think there's some scar tissue as you would be expecting - and I would be say I'd be in a better position to make some sort of judgment maybe by Friday, certainly by early next week."

O'Neill is obviously keen that Everton's medical team should find the source of his constant hamstring strains and if that means sending McCarthy away for the summer, he will do it.

"If these are hamstring problems that are taking months and months and months, then I do take your point. You'd have to think: what is it? I mean, he's left us now, what, three times in those games?" said O'Neill.

"But, again, it will probably end up depending on how he feels himself.

"I mean, James might think 'yes, I am fit to play and these international matches are exactly what I need for now' rather than thinking that he will take the time off."

He wanted to play the last time and he declared himself fit and it was really unfortunate that he went out and felt it in the warm up.

"It's a different thing between some training for couple of days beforehand and thinking that you are okay and then the intensity of the game or the build up to the game as it was in injuring himself," he said.

"The truth is that the one thing that we have to come to accept is that there is no point in bringing somebody who is just half fit.

"That's really it. if he decides at the end of this week 'listen, I am absolutely flying, I don't feel a thing', that's a consideration.

"If he thinks at the end of the week 'no, listen, these games coming up are too early', I don't have a problem."

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