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Woes mount up for O'Neill


Marc Wilson

Marc Wilson


Marc Wilson

WHEN HE began work at Parkhead as Celtic manager back in 2000, Martin O'Neill had the nice position of being able to spend cash on big names and bring players like Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon and John Hartson to the club.

This week, as he prepares for Friday's visit to Celtic Park in his role as Ireland manager, O'Neill would love the luxury of being able to add some big names to an increasingly small squad as injuries, especially two picked up by Ireland players while on club duty only yesterday, are making what was already a tough task even harder.

Because of injury, for Friday's vital game in Scotland, Ireland have serious worries over a main defender (Marc Wilson), a defensive midfielder (Glenn Whelan), that midfielder's sidekick (James McCarthy) on top of potential match-winning attackers (Wes Hoolahan and Andy Reid) being definitely out.


Three definite starters and three Premier League regulars - Whelan, Wilson and McCarthy - are now most unlikely to be fit for action against the Scots on Friday night.

Whelan was already a lost cause but O'Neill was aware of that for some time, and the recent impressive form in midfield of Jeff Hendrick and Darron Gibson had softened the blow somewhat.

But yesterday brought further bad news on the medical front: Wilson was substituted due to injury just 26 minutes into Stoke's Premier League win away to Spurs, a good day for Jon Walters who scored yet again.

Described by the club as a "muscular injury", Wilson is now a major doubt for Friday. He will, hopefully, report to Dublin later today for assessment and it's a bonus for O'Neill that his fellow Ulster native is a quick healer and rarely injured, so O'Neill will give Wilson time to prove his fitness.

But there's now a major question mark over McCarthy ahead of what would have been a difficult night for the Scottish native in Glasgow. He played the full 90 minutes of Everton's 1-1 draw at Sunderland, on a day when Séamus Coleman and Aiden McGeady also started with an added bonus for O'Neill as Gibson got an extended runout as sub, on as a 13th minute replacement for the injured Gareth Barry.

But this Everton boss does not appear to send his players off on international duty with a smile and willing heart.

"We are going to assess James. He was feeling his hamstring towards the end of the game but he wanted to stay on the pitch because we had used all three subs," said Martinez last night.

"It is a bit of a concern because he had the same injury a few weeks back when he missed the game against Manchester United and it is in that area.

"We are hoping that it is more fatigue than a soft tissue problem. We will assess him in the morning."

McCarthy, along with Wilson and fellow injury concern Keiren Westwood, are due in Dublin this evening with the first training session planned for tomorrow.

Whether they come to Ireland at all remains to be seen, as both Stoke and Everton have "history" with the FAI.

Some officials at Stoke will this week recall the hard-line taken by Giovanni Trapattoni in the past when it came to player fitness. Stoke were angered when Trapattoni insisted that Wilson and Walters report to Dublin for assessment by the FAI medical team before a friendly with Croatia in 2011, even though the club maintained they were not fit.


"They are only friendly games and we are paying their wages" said an angry Tony Pulis.

Neither Pulis not Trapattoni are still in their 2011 positions but the FAI's hard line then could hurt them this week and an ugly battle could ensue if the FAI insist on Wilson and McCarthy's presence in Dublin while their clubs object.

Some Irish eyes did smile this weekend, Shane Long and Walters both on target while Stephen Ward had a morale-boosting win with his club.

But all the while, Gordon Strachan smiles. It's going to be a busy and messy week.