O'Neill: Hogan's keen on call-up
Irish boss says Villa striker set to declare
Well that was a curveball that no one saw coming. Aston Villa striker Scott Hogan now wants to play for Ireland and Martin O'Neill is delighted about that.
Hogan is not in the 39-man provisional squad named for next month's World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Serbia. But he might yet be in the 26 that O'Neill brings to Tbilisi for the first of those matches.
The FAI are processing Hogan's paperwork to secure an Irish passport and, if it comes through quickly, the Irish manager is prepared to act.
"I'll certainly have a look at it," said O'Neill. "From his conversation with me, he was certainly keen to get up and running."
Which makes a pleasant change from the last time the manager spoke to the media about Hogan when there was a weary look of resignation on his face which said that he had ended his pursuit of the player.
But, it turns out, O'Neill didn't have to pursue the 25-year-old, Hogan came to him.said: "He's keen (on playing for Ireland) he's really keen, and I'm delighted with that. There's a genuine interest there, he'd like to come in. And we're getting on with that at the moment.
"I'm all on for chasing people - but I need to see someone really wanting to be keen for us here," O'Neill added. "I think you'd want to see that there's a genuine feeling of 'I want to come, I want to play, I want to try and make the grade at international level and play for Ireland.' That's all the encouragement I want to hear.
"I have met Scott and there's a strong willingness to want to come."
That 'strong willingness' is key for O'Neill. Irish football teams have traditionally been greater than the sum of their parts - something that stems from the excellent squad spirit that is a part of all Irish football groups.
"There's a group of lads in there who love playing for us, whose careers have been enhanced in the last couple of years by playing in the green shirt and feeling that sense of camaraderie or what ever it may be. I cannot read everybody and don't know exactly what they are thinking - but if there is a genuine willingness about wanting to come in here and try to do something for us, well Scott has that now. If he meets the passport criteria, then I will go for it," he said.
O'Neill is so enthused but the prospect of getting Hogan into his squad that he has already advised the player on where he needs to improve.
"I've already spoken to Scott and I don't think he'd mind me saying but I think he can improve definitely in terms of hold-up play. I've seen a lot of him for Brentford last year and I understood completely at the time when there was the hullabaloo about him coming in."
If Hogan might be on the fast-track to playing for Ireland, things will move a little bit slower for Declan Rice. The West Ham player got half an hour of first-team action against Manchester United on Sunday, but O'Neill was not tempted to throw the teenager into the group for these two crucial matches.
"Declan was on my original long list of 99 for this one," O'Neill chuckled. "No, he was, but I've just taken his name out. Noel King will probably be naming him in the 21 squad. It's nice to see, he's a lovely lad too."
Having made a joke about his "long list of 99", Martin O'Neill was again asked why he insists on naming such a huge provisional squad when only around 26 of the 39 named yesterday will end up travelling to the games.
"I just think it's nice to let lads know that the international manager and Roy and the other coaches are watching them. Yes, quite a few of them wil get a call to say we don't need you for this weekend. But at least they know I'm aware of them out there," he said.