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O'Neill choice will go down to the wire

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Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane talk during training at Turner's Cross ahead of tonight's clash with Belarus Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane talk during training at Turner's Cross ahead of tonight's clash with Belarus Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane talk during training at Turner's Cross ahead of tonight's clash with Belarus Photo: Sportsfile

Right at the eleventh hour, Martin O'Neill's luck has hit a pothole.

Robbie Keane has had a jab in a pulled calf muscle, Harry Arter had to call a halt to training half-way through yesterday's eve of match spin on the beautifully manicured Turner's Cross pitch and James McCarthy did some running but not much.

"Robbie Keane did a little of training on Saturday morning," said O'Neill. "He felt his calf. So, anyway, we'll have a look at that on a daily basis. Obviously he won't play tonight but we'll see. James McCarthy has done a little bit. Again we'll have a look."

"As Robbie says himself he's a pretty quick healer. We will see how the injection settles it down. He was never going to train today and he won't play tonight."

"Harry Arter had to come out of training. He has a thigh problem," added O'Neill.

Arter was whisked away for a scan on what looked like a hamstring tweak and it remains to be seen whether he makes it onto the pitch for tonight's final warm-up against Belarus.

Decisions

"Once we had organised the second game against Belarus, then there was going to be a couple of late decisions. Who knows what will happen this evening?" he said.

To be fair to O'Neill, he did warn everybody to expect the unexpected but the idea that Robbie Keane might miss the bus at the very, very last moment is a curved ball nobody could have predicted.

Sure there were some mutterings around the end of the qualifying campaign which wondered whether Martin O'Neill would have to be the one to end a legend's international career.

It's a chore nobody wants but it has to be done at some point if it is patently obvious that the legend no longer has the ability to do legendary things.

Fit, Robbie still has a hawk's eye for a chance and in the MLS at least, that is good enough to get him goals.

Fit, O'Neill could point to Keane's value as an experienced captain who is an integral part of the group spirit and bring him to France.

Who knows, Ireland might need a goal in the dying knocks of the final group game against Italy and who better than Keane to supply the appropriate miracle?

But now there's a calf injury and O'Neill has a dilemma. If he's not fit, he's taking up space on the plane.

"Robbie, obviously, he would have been coming with us, definitely, as the captain of the side. So we'll see how he is again. But, as he said himself, he's still pretty upbeat and positive," said the Ireland manager.

In fact, while it would be personally devastating for Keane and an awful stroke of luck, it would free up another spot in the final 23 and make O'Neill's job considerably easier.

In that scenario, O'Neill could bring David McGoldrick as his fourth striker and find a place for two from Arter, Stephen Quinn and David Meyler who trained yesterday and looks suitably delighted with himself after Hull's promotion play-off success.

Of course, if Arter has pulled a hamstring, his chance is gone and then O'Neill could announce his squad before the game.

There is, however, one other conundrum which must be resolved. Which goalkeeper will he leave out?

Shay Given was all business in Turner's Cross and saving shots from Keiren Westwood. At the other end, Darren Randolph and David Forde were swapping spells standing in front of Shane Long who looks, there's only one word for it, awesome.

Working on the assumption that Randolph is the man in possession and that Westwood must travel after playing a significant part in Sheffield Wednesday's run to the Championship play-off final, O'Neill has a choice to make between Given and Forde.

As ever, O'Neill gave little away about his team selection but he did confirm that Daryl Murphy would play but that Kevin Doyle has not travelled and is waiting for a possible late, late call-up.

"I think the game will be great for a number of people, including Daryl Murphy if he can get through it. Some people definitely need the game like Murphy," he said.

"I spoke to Kevin and told him to hold on standby. He's had another game which was good for him. There's a possibility he could get a very late call-up."