Wednesday 23 January 2019

Timing so vital for boss O'neill

West Ham’s Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph vents his frustration during Saturday’s Premier League defeat to Swansea. Photo: PA
West Ham’s Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph vents his frustration during Saturday’s Premier League defeat to Swansea. Photo: PA
Bournemouth’s Harry Arter in action (l) with West Brom’s Claudio Yacob during their Premier League clash on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Four years ago this week, Giovanni Trapattoni had already made up his mind when it came to his squad for the European Championship finals.

It's still a case of 'make your mind up' for Martin O'Neill ahead of a key week in his two-and-a-half year reign as Ireland manager, with the Derry native due in Dublin on Thursday to name his squad for the friendly games against Holland and Belarus later this month.

The timing is important: Trap named his squad for the pre-Euro 2012 friendly games against Bosnia and Hungary on May 7th, the then Ireland boss confirming that the 23-man panel for the friendly games was effectively his squad for the finals, but O'Neill is this week likely to name a large provisional squad for the Holland/Belarus games and then delay naming his final panel until just before the UEFA deadline.

It seems astonishing now, but back in 2012, Darren Randolph and Seamus Coleman were only on standby for that 23-man squad and were left at home (Andy Keogh was the only other player on standby who failed to travel), both men now uppermost in O'Neill's thoughts and their state of mind and body this week will whirr around in O'Neill's mind.

Once again there was no sign of Coleman in the Everton squad due to injury and O'Neill will be very relieved to see the Donegal man feature at some stage next weekend for his club. But O'Neill won't know what to make of Randolph's weekend: plonked back into the West Ham side due to an injury to No. 1 Adrián, Randolph was beaten four times as the Hammers were beaten by Swansea City.

The optimist in O'Neill will stress that his first-choice keeper got in some badly-needed game time, and it was also significant that Harry Arter continued his progress by starting for Bournemouth in their draw with West Brom.

Ciaran Clark, Shane Long, Wes Hoolahan, Robbie Brady, Glenn Whelan, James McClean, James McCarthy - all guaranteed to be on the plane to France - started in the Premier League while Jon Walters and John O'Shea, as well as forgotten man Darron Gibson, came off the bench.

Gibson is enjoying his spell in the side and there were weekend boosts for David McGoldrick and Anthony Pilkington as they scored in Saturday's Championship action, but it's probably too late for that trio.

It was a mixed weekend and a case of mixed messages from the Ireland management. There's still no sign of O'Neill and Roy Keane signing a new deal to take them beyond Euro 2016 and from O'Neill's comments two weeks ago, he's happy to wait and judge the lie of the land after Ireland's involvement in the European Championships ends, certainly no urgency from the Ireland boss to sign the new deal which the FAI would be more than happy to have signed and tucked away in an Abbotstown safe.

Yet Roy Keane's movements over the weekend suggest that perhaps the O'Neill/Keane axis are in this for the long haul.

Keane's scouting duties took him to see the Huddersfield-Brentford Championship game on Saturday, where the only Irish interest (apart from former B cap Sean Scannell) was Brentford forward Scott Hogan.

The 24-year-old has yet to play at any international level, as an attempt to call him up to the Irish U21 squad a few years ago ran aground when his then club, Rochdale, did all they could to block a call-up for the striker as Ireland duty would have caused him to miss two of their games.

Hogan missed most of this season with a knee injury picked up in pre-season but since returning to fitness in March, he's been on fire, scoring seven goals in his last four games, two of them scored in front of Keane on Saturday.

An international rookie who is only just back from serious injury, Hogan has no chance of being involved in France this summer but he could be an option for the next campaign, especially given the age profile of Ireland's thirty-something strike force of Keane, Doyle, Murphy and Walters.

Hogan, who has been touted by club-mate Alan Judge, could well be an Ireland player in September, whether he'll be managed by O'Neill and Keane is another issue.

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