herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

Sticky situation with Toffees but O'Neill is wrong

Rep of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Rep of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile

One word, with two letters: 'No'.

Martin O'Neill's terse response earlier this week to a question about whether he had any contact of late with Everton manager Ronald Koeman spoke volumes: no.

Koeman had more to say when he was asked 24 hours later how he felt about O'Neill's decision to name James McCarthy in his 32-man squad for the World Cup ties against Moldova and Wales.

The Dutchman appears to be a cold fish at times and given the money he's had to spend with an under-achieving Everton side this season, it's usually hard to find sympathy. But O'Neill's actions on McCarthy are so puzzling that you do feel for Koeman.

Anger

Here are the facts: Everton have played 13 games this season. Not only has McCarthy yet to play, he hasn't even made the bench and the last time he kicked a ball in anything approaching anger was in a pre-season game, way back in July. His last appearance for the first team at his club was further back, in March.

Having only returned to full training with the club this week, after a spell out with injury, he had no chance of featuring for the club before the Irish squad report for duty on Monday.

O'Neill admittedly has problems in midfield for that game at home to Moldova next Friday: Jon Walters, James McClean and Robbie Brady are out. Jeff Hendrick has only just returned to action after a month out, while Harry Arter and Wes Hoolahan have had injury woes of late.

A fully-fit James McCarthy would probably have played in Dublin against Moldova, possibly in Cardiff too.

But McCarthy is not fit, nowhere near it. And still, O'Neill included him in his squad for the double header.

Past Everton managers have had battles with past Ireland managers over call-ups for their players, especially McCarthy.

Maybe they feel their players are somehow endangered once they land in Dublin: Darron Gibson (then an Everton player) and Seamus Coleman both suffered serious, potentially career-ending injuries, while playing for Ireland in Dublin.

"What I expect from every Everton player is to not take risks when it's not necessary," Koeman said this week.

"When it's the last game of the season, if it's a play-off game for the season then everybody understands it's difficult for the player.

"But still we pay all the salaries to the players. If they call James for the Irish national team, then he needs to go because that is a FIFA rule."

McCarthy's future at Goodison Park was bleak before this latest row and he's expected to leave in January, but that won't ease tensions between the club and the FAI.

O'Neill's stance in calling up an injured player is wrong, and you can only imagine how he, while Celtic boss, would react if a player, absent for seven months, was called up by his country.