First there was the disconcerting sight of Robbie Keane stepping gingerly down from the team bus before entering Turner’s Cross, not to take his place on the pitch, but in the stands, writes Liam Mackey.
Then there was the no less worrying spectacle of Harry Arter — who had been fully participating in the Ireland training session — suddenly making his way to the sidelines with an evident problem with his thigh.
The sun blazed down on Cork yesterday but Martin O’Neill could have been forgiven for detecting a cloud or two in the blue sky as he was presented with a couple of new injury alarms ahead of tonight’s friendly against Belarus and, more to the point, that post-match 11pm deadline for official submission of his France 2016 squad.
Keane, it emerged, had picked up his calf problem during a light training session in Dublin on Saturday morning. He has since had an injection and will definitely not play tonight. But, again, the bigger question: Will he still be going to France?
“Robbie, obviously, he would have been coming with us, definitely, as the captain of the side so we’ll see how he is,” said the manager. “But, as he said himself, he’s still pretty upbeat and positive.
I wouldn’t start jumping to (the conclusion that he won’t be fit for the Euros) yet. We’ll see how he is. As Robbie says himself he’s a pretty quick healer.”
Speaking in general about players carrying injuries, O’Neill added: “You have to put some trust in players somewhere along the way and while everyone wants to play I don’t think anyone would fool themselves.”
Keane’s difficulty could yet re-open the door to Kevin Doyle who, having been told by O’Neill that he need not, after all, fly in from the United States for tonight’s game, was nevertheless advised by the manager that he should be on standby. “There’s a possibility he could get a very late call-up,” O’Neill admitted.
Harry Arter was the other fresh injury worry yesterday, withdrawing from the training pitch with a thigh problem which he was set to have scanned. O’Neill allowed himself a moment of black humour as he gave the latest update to the media. “He was alright this morning. He was alright before you came in. I think it was you people obviously bollixed him.”
Meanwhile, further reports are awaited on James McCarthy, who trained on his own with a physio as he continued his recovery work on a troublesome hamstring.
“I have to speak to him,” said O’Neill immediately after the session. “He’s done that little bit. He had a little bit of time off and he got an injection to see how he is. I need to speak to him and to Alan the doctor.” All this, and still a game to negotiate tonight before O’Neill can finally make up his mind.
“I know it’s all getting down to the 11th hour as it were but that was always going to be the case,” he said. “Once we had organised the second game against Belarus, then there were going to be a couple of late decisions. Who knows what will happen in the match?”
What we do know is that Wes Hoolahan, David Meyler and Daryl Murphy — “the game will be great for him if he can get through it,” said O’Neill — will definitely feature at some point at the Cross although beyond that the manager was, as usual, keeping his selection cards close to his chest. Still, it will be a surprise if the likes of Cyrus Christie and Aiden McGeady, among others, don’t also get an opportunity to do their stuff against Belarus while, especially now in the absence of Keane and Doyle, David McGoldrick could be in line for back to back starts, this time alongside his Ipswich team mate Murphy.
Looking forward to the farewell friendly, O’Neill said: “I want it to be a game that we get something out of as we did the other night. The groundsmen have done fantastic here, the pitch looks really good and it should be a really decent atmosphere, our last game before we head, so all of those things are good. There’ll be a bit of euphoria but I want us to play well.”
The manager also insisted he has not already told any of his players whether they will or will not be going to France.
“It will be difficult (to leave out players),” he conceded, “because they’ve put heart and soul into it. They desperately want to play for their country.”
But, like the rest of us, they’re just going to have to wait to learn their fate until shortly before O’Neill’s sends through his list to Uefa tonight.
“Once the game is over, once the players get some sort of OK from Alan the doctor, then I should be able to submit it,” he confirmed.
As he spoke, the sun continued to blaze down on Turner’s Cross though a distant build-up of cloud seemed to threaten the possibility of a repeat of Sunday’s spectacular thunderstorms over the city.
“Those might take place when we get back to the dressing room,” said O’Neill with a thin smile.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.