New boy Harry Arter could come into the fold
Bournemouth man makes O'Neill smile
THERE is a very obvious difference in the way Martin O'Neill reacts when he is asked about Jack Grealish and when Harry Arter is mentioned.
Like any manager, O'Neill is much more interested in a player who will turn up with his boots and offers him a live option.
So when he was asked about Arter after Ireland's first pre-Poland training session and his face it up, it was hard not to compare his response to the studied indifference he showed to Grealish's presence in the hall for the FAI/Soccer Writer's Young Player of the Year award on Sunday evening.
That was, to say the least, unfortunate. As was Roy Keane's decision to publicly have a pop at Grealish's father late last year.
Hats off, then, to the football scribes for giving him the gong which allowed the FAI to push out the boat and bring his grandparents and parents to Dublin for the event, a smart move which is an investment in the future even if the current international manager has other imperatives.
Grealish said himself he hoped to be back playing for Ireland in September and that would appear to answer some of the questions posed by speculation surrounding his international future.
Nobody is happy about a player who hovers over a decision like this but he has chosen that route and it is very clear he will not be rushed.
Put it this way, O'Neill could be gainfully employed back in the Premier League by this time next year but Grealish could play for Ireland for the next ten.
Arter didn't make it to Gannon Park for the first training session because he was in London with his partner but it is very clear that O'Neill is impressed with the Bournemouth midfield man and has already promoted him from observer status to active participant.
Asked whether Arter's inclusion was by way of an introduction to this level of international football rather than a full-on immersion in a big, competitive qualifying game, O'Neill admitted his thinking had changed.
"Initially, I thought that I would just bring him in and give him a bit of experience but he's playing well. He didn't want to miss but his partner was having a scan done today in London and it was important for him to be there," said O'Neill. "He's keen, really keen and delighted to be involved in it. We'll see. My initial thoughts were exactly what you're thinking. Just bring him in let him have a little look for the week and see but he has done exceptionally well."
Another ancestral recruit James McCarthy has been dogged by questions about his decision to opt for green over blue but for once, there was nothing to report about the Everton midfielder.
With McCarthy, it is a big gamble to suggest at the start of a week-long build -up that everything is okay but it certainly does like he will anchor the Ireland midfield against Poland on Sunday.Likewise, Séamus Coleman and if O'Neill's instinct is correct, Aiden McGeady as well. Even Darron Gibson is in Portmarnock though he is complaining about a problem with his groin.
"Like Séamus, they've played about four games in last ten games. He's (McCarthy) starting to feel fatigued towards the end of matches which is not surprising but he thinks he's going to be ready and available.
"With the Everton players having played at that intensity and done a lot of travelling as well it's a matter of just monitoring them. I don't think Séamus is wanting for fitness anyway," he said.
"James? Just keep an eye on him. Let's see how they go. Darron Gibson came in and he's complaining a bit with his groin so we'll have a look at that. He hasn't played that often anyway.
"Aiden has had the knee problem. I think he's fit. He did exactly the same work Robbie did and he's come through that fine so I don't think that was the reason he was not playing yesterday."
At least there is no accompanying dirge of bad news medical bulletins from Roberto Martinez for this game which is something of a first and welcome given the importance of the Poland fixture in the story of this qualifying group.
Jeff Hendrick's forced absence is a pity but all in all, O'Neill has reason to be pleased that he has a relatively full range of options to chose from although he did reveal that Stephen Ward had some minor surgery on his ankle last night.
"He's got a bit of a problem in his ankle. We think were getting to the bottom of it now through a couple of scans so he's heading off with the club's permission with Alan our doctor and getting a little operation. There are some screws in there which are irritating him at the moment," said O'Neill.
The Ireland manager believes recovery will be swift, as little as a few days, but O'Neill does have concerns about Ward and other players' match fitness.
"They are sorting that out and that should be a couple of days. The length of time he has played and the little game time he has had would be a concern but we will see. I wouldn't want to be gambling with too many players fitness, certainly in the starting team," he added.