Play-off blow as mainstay James McClean picks up knee injury

Play-off blow as mainstay James McClean picks up knee injury
James McClean

James McClean has emerged as a major injury doubt for Ireland’s Euro play-off against Slovakia next month after sustaining a medial knee ligament injury.

The winger aggravated the knock during Stoke City’s defeat to Preston North End but opted to finish out the Championship contest.

Last night, sources confirmed that the Derryman will be sidelined for several weeks, raising fears over his availability for the trip to Bratislava on March 26.

McClean has been a linchpin during Mick McCarthy’s reign and would be expected to take one of the flanker’s spot in the crunch play-off.

Meanwhile, Stephen Kenny insists he won’t make any final decision on his backroom staff until his formal term as Ireland next senior manager begins.

The pre-ordained elevation of the under-21 boss could kick in at the end of March if McCarthy is unable to guide the team through the Euro play-offs.

While that would effectively end the contract of the manager, his assistant Robbie Keane still has another two-and-a-half years left on his deal at the FAI.

Kenny, speaking at the opening of the national football exhibition in Dundalk last night, is not obligated to maintain Keane’s continuity in the position.

The former Dundalk boss, should Ireland not reach the Euros, could have his first fixtures in June.

“Listen, you see Robbie’s statistics out there in the exhibition; his goals for Ireland,” said Kenny.

“He was an amazing player but, from my point of view, we’re looking out for the senior team reaching the Euros. I’m not having discussions until after that.

Stephen Kenny
Stephen Kenny

“Hopefully, it is after the Euros. That would be brilliant.”

McCarthy indicated this week that he’d be overlooking Troy Parrott for the play-off semi-final in Slovakia on March 26th.

The Tottenham Hotspur striker has scored four goals in as many matches for Kenny as they’ve taken leadership of their European Championship qualifying group.

Ireland will host Iceland on March 26 followed by a trip to Luxembourg five days later. The final game of the campaign against top seeds Italy in October will be managed by Kenny’s successor.

He said: “I’m trying to qualify for the under-21 Euros the senior international team are looking at their tournament. Why view it negatively? I wouldn’t like to enter that conversation.

“Troy just turned 18 the other day and has got time on his side.”

Kenny, should Ireland reach the Euros, will have a second successive Toulon Tournament to prepare for.

Initially, budgetary restrictions at the FAI ruled out a return to France in June for the Irish but last night Niall Quinn confirmed funds had been sourced to facilitate an entry.The FAI were earlier this month bailed out by a combination of the state, Uefa and Bank of Ireland. An allocation of the four-year €30m deal was made towards high-performance projects, the sort of category Toulon falls under.

Ireland crowned their first appearance at the prestigious event since 2002 by finishing fourth of 12 nations in France last summer.

Several U21 starlets shone over the five games as a precursor to blazing to the top of their Euro qualifying group.

They included Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher along with strikers Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah who have both gone on to start in the Premier League.

Kenny had lauded the tournament for pitting his charges against teams from outside of Europe.

Mexico and tournament winners Brazil were sending their sides to this summer’s Olympics.

Elsewhere, Ireland defender Cyrus Christie has lashed out at what he deems tyo be inaction by social media companies to racist abuse.

His teammate McClean had revealed that the Fulham fullback Ireland felt the brunt of racist abuse after the 5-1 World Cup play-off defeat by Denmark in November 2017.

Cyrus Christie
Cyrus Christie

Despite the FAI referring the posts to the Gardai, Christie is aghast that “nothing gets done”.

Speaking on The Counter Attack podcast, the 27-year-old said: “I can understand why people don’t pursue things, because you know that nothing is going to happen.”

“They (trolls) think they can get away with it, they hide behind profiles.

“I have had so many cases on there, the racism and stuff, it is just mad, but when you speak to them (social media companies), they are like ‘oh well’.

“The club (Fulham) have a contact at Twitter and Facebook, so they speak to them and the police will have a connecting role.

“They (social media firms) are useless - they don’t do anything. I’ve had so many things, but nothing gets done.”

Also, Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl suggested Shane Long’s contract won’t be resolved until their relegation fears are resolved.

The 33-year-old’s existing deal is due to expire in the summer.

“I don’t know if I have to bring you up to date because the message was always the same, we said about 36 points and if we have this we start speaking with the players,” said the Austrian.

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