Hoolahan set for swift recall

While next month’s European Championship qualifiers against Gibraltar and Germany might be just three days apart, the gulf in standard between Ireland’s opponents is about as wide as it gets in international football, running all the way from unranked minnows to the champions of the world.

Hoolahan set for swift recall

And with Gibraltar up first and at home, it looks nailed-on that Wes Hoolahan — who was left out of the Irish side which won in Georgia — will come straight into the starting 11. And there might even be a return to competitive action too for Shay Given.

Unveiling his extended provisional squad at FAI headquarters yesterday, Martin O’Neill said that while he has been giving “some consideration” to the striking contrast between next month’s games, his immediate priority will be to secure three points against Gibraltar at the Aviva Stadium.

“The first thing in my mind as a manager is that I need to win the game,” he said. “And I need some players on the field who have the ability to open up defences, particularly here at home. Let’s say Gibraltar go defensive, then I’d like to try to do that. It’s important for us to win.

“And I really must say this — you might say ‘it’s only Gibraltar’ but, for me, I have to really focus on that game before (Germany). Take your eye off that and you find yourself in a bit of trouble. I know you might be looking at me... we should beat Gibraltar, we should be able to win the game. But we need to be able to open them up, we need some creative players and I will have a look at other positions, I must admit.”

So Hoolahan would feature in your thinking then? “Absolutely.”

And might there be a place for Given? “It wouldn’t be out of my thoughts.”

Hoolahan’s omission for the game in Tbilisi brought the wrath of the RTÉ panel down on O’Neill’s head but, yesterday, he insisted that such criticism will not affect his focus.

“Criticism is part of life,” he said. “My point is that we won the match.

“Winning is the most important thing and performances will improve.

“I’m delighted we got some points on the board. By the time we’ve played Scotland in November, we’ll have played three away games and one home match. We’ll still have some matches at home that are going to be really, really important.

“But one thing I didn’t want was to be out of the competition before we were in it. So the win against Georgia was fantastic. If we could be going into the Germany game with six points and confidence behind us, that would be terrific. And then go as positively as we can in that game. And why not? I think we can cause Germany problems.”

O’Neill’s latest squad contains no surprises. Joey O’Brien misses out through injury and Paul Green returns, but they are the only changes from the panel for the Oman and Georgia games. Of course, the emphasis at this point is on the provisional nature of the selection which runs to a bloated 37 names.

“The only player missing from the last 30 years is Paul McGrath,” O’Neill quipped.

While David McGoldrick’s Irish credentials continue, in O’Neill’s words, to be “chased up”, the manager sounded much less enthusiastic about the prospects of West Ham’s Mark Noble going green.

“I haven’t spoken to him” he said. “I’ve said umpteen times if people want to show willingness to come and play for us that is fine by me. I’m not going to chase it. I won’t be chasing him. Mark is a fine player, but just to reiterate: I’m not chasing him.”

Ireland’s only Champions League representative, Cillian Sheridan of Apoel Nicosia, also misses out but, as O’Neill pointed out: “The squad that we have now may well be different to the one we have in six, 12 months time. That’s the nature of the business.”

Indeed, when selection and injury are accounted for, the current squad will also look quite different when it’s whittled down to 23 ahead of next month’s qualifiers.

Already, there are question marks over a number of those included in the provisional panel, most notably Andy Reid.

The Nottingham Forest man has been injury-plagued since the beginning of O’Neill’s reign, and having used the last international period to get injections for a groin problem, the Irish medical staff have just learned that more may now be required.

“I have to just have a conversation with Andy himself and see what he wants to do,” said the manager.

“He was there in November time, played for a little while, hurt his hamstring in a bit of training we’d done and I’ve not really seen him since. But I wouldn’t rule him out. He’s got talent and he looks as fit as he’s ever been. if he’s got the desire to come and play for us, absolutely.”

Encouragingly for O’Neill, recent injury worries James McClean and Seamus Coleman should both be fully in the frame for the qualifiers while Jeff Hendrick, the Derby midfielder who is rated very highly by the manager, might also make the cut as he continues his recovery from a dislocated shoulder.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

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