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Thursday 15 November 2018

O'Neill needs all the time he can get to get squad in shape

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Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill
Seamus Coleman

After one of the roughest weeks of his five-year reign as Ireland manager, Martin O'Neill now has 23 days before he has to deal with it all over again.

And make no mistake, he will need time. Lots of it, and that time not necessarily spent attending games.

Much of the work which will help O'Neill put a shape on his squad for next month's Nations League games at home to Denmark and Wales will be done off the field of play.

For starters, he needs to put the Harry Arter and Declan Rice issues to bed. Given West Ham's troubles, it's likely their manager will make changes for the next couple of games and that could see Rice return to the side after a spell out in the cold.

The sight of Rice in defence for a West Ham side in the Premier League, working their way up the table, will only add to the pressure for the 19-year-old, and those around him, to make a call on his international ambitions.

Some have been clutching at straws to guess which way Rice's mind is headed, such as the fact that he 'liked' a tweet from former Ireland U21s team-mate Ronan Curtis about his call-up to the senior squad.

O'Neill is keen to have talks with Rice's family and agent - and the Ireland boss does seem to have a line of communication with Rice Senior - and persuade him to make his mind up.

The Arter issue also has to be dealt with, and soon. O'Neill will glean little from a scouting trip to Cardiff City games as the gap between Arter and the FAI can only be bridged by a meeting, and probably an apology from Keane.

O'Neill will also spend a great deal of time overseeing communications between his medical staff and those of the clubs where his injured players play.

Shane Long will be fit; James McClean, Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy could be available; Robbie Brady is more of a concern as he's still at least a week away from even a training game with his club.

Ireland's set pieces have been poor in Brady's absence and for that reason alone, O'Neill will be desperate to have him next month.

O'Neill spent much of this week talking about the Arter/Keane/Walters issue and others have chipped in with their take on Roy Keane's confrontations with Arter and Walters.

Neil Warnock, who is Arter's manager at Cardiff City, has surely heard, and dealt with, worse cases in his long coaching career and he expects the issue to get cleared up.

"You get rows like this a lot of the time but I'm sure Martin will get this sorted in the next few weeks," said Warnock.

"I had two players trying to kill themselves the other day. You get that everywhere, little things spark that off in training.

"I don't know what was said but I'm sure there are lessons to be learned by everybody."

Ipswich boss Paul Hurst has only been working with Walters for a few days - his loan move there was a late one - but Hurst has spoken out very much in Walters' favour.

"What I would say is Jon knows how to manage his knee," Hurst said as he prepared to give Walters the first runout of his second spell with Ipswich.

"If it's a case that he needs a day off then we'll have an adult conversation and make the right decision. I'm not going to force a player out on the training pitch if it's going to be detrimental to him and to us.

"He doesn't want to be inside, he wants to be out training. If there is ever an issue or his knee is playing up then we'll look at it.

"In Jon Walters we've got someone who wants to be out there and has a fantastic attitude. If he is inside it will be through gritted teeth and because he needs to be, not because he thinks 'oh, I'm a bit tired'."

Walters could do with hearing words of support like that from the international team management.

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