Wednesday 17 January 2018

Relief for O'Neill as Long makes progress

Euro 2016

Shane Long
Shane Long

Ronald Koeman has delivered some very good news in the direction of Martin O'Neill as Shane Long is winning his fitness battle.

But Jeff Hendrick is now a minor concern for the Ireland boss as he will miss a second successive game for Derby County tomorrow.

Long was a significant worry for O'Neill after he picked up an ankle injury during Ireland's defeat in Poland two weeks ago, and the initial time frame of a two to four week absence put a question mark over his availability for the play-off next month.

But Koeman has confirmed that Long is due to return.

"He's progressing well," Koeman said of Long.

"The weekend is too short to be available but I have good hope that for the next weekend that he will be fit again."

Derby man Hendrick has established himself as one of the key men in this Ireland side under O'Neill, but the Irish boss will be keeping in contact with the Derby medical staff to check on his progress.

Hendrick missed the Rams' midweek clash with Blackburn and is also out for today's game against Huddersfield as he was "unwell" earlier this week.

"Jeff has not recovered in time although he has been in doing some light training," said Derby head coach Paul Clement.

Meanwhile, Glenn Whelan says he's hoping to upset his former Stoke City team-mate Asmir Begovic in the build-up to next month's Euro 2016 play-off.

Whelan was a club-mate with Begovic for five seasons, before his departure to Chelsea earlier this year and the Dubliner has already been in touch with the Bosnian No. 1.

"We've had a little chat," said Whelan.

"We play Chelsea twice leading up to the Bosnia game and I might need to try to grab him the tunnel and give him a few little jabs to slow him down a little bit.

"But on a serious note, it's a tough game for both teams.

"I don't think anyone would want to play us, but ideally I don't think anyone would've wanted to have drawn Bosnia either. On the day hopefully the best team wins."

O'Neill's assistant Roy Keane is avoiding the Premier League this weekend and will spend today scouting in the Championship.

Keane plans to attend today's early kick-off between Bolton and Leeds United and will then take in the clash of Blackburn Rovers and Burnley.

Shane Duffy, a regular in defence for Blackburn this season, has been watched by Keane in the past and while has has been included in the provisional squads for the recent qualifiers, he's failed to make the cut for the final squad.

But with defensive options limited due to John O'Shea's suspension for the away leg against Bosnia, and the lack of first-team football at Derby for Alex Pearce, the Ireland management are keen to explore all options.

Keane may also hope to see Stephen Ward in action for Burnley, though the ex-Wolves man has been unable to get into the Clarets side this season having missed the start of the season due to injury. Ward impressed at left-back in the win over Germany and could return against Bosnia.

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