While O’Neill has already spoken to the Stoke City man on the phone, he now wants to hold face to face talks with him to clear up, once and for all, his feelings about playing for his country again
“You either feel as if you want to come back or you don’t,” said O’Neill yesterday. “It’s as simple as that. This is not something where you think ‘I will come back in October time’. Absolutely, this is it. You have time to think about it now. I will also hopefully point out that, even if our choice may be sometimes somewhat limited, nobody is going to cakewalk into the team. And if you are prepared for those things then that’s fine. I don’t want a raging headline but, absolutely, just say ‘I would like to be involved’ and then the rest is up to me.”
O’Neill suggested he would also consider if Roy Keane might have a role in helping to resolve the situation with a player he has spoken highly of in the past.
“I think initially it is down to me,” said the manager, “but if there is something there that Roy can help with, I would bring him in, absolutely.”
As to the response of the other Irish players should the Cobh exile rejoin the squad after an absence of seven years, O’Neill said: “There is always a bit of a wry smile when Stephen is mentioned but the boys, listen, they all think he can play.”
Ireland’s absence from a provisional 32-man squad for the summer friendlies against Turkey, Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal was one of the two main talking points at yesterday’s press conference at FAI headquarters. The other was the complete lack of new faces in the panel, with previous squad members goalkeeper Rob Elliot and the recalled Shane Duffy – the Everton defender who has been on loan at Yeovil – the only uncapped players to be included.
“At this minute, much as you might want me to, I really cannot invent new players to come in,” said O’Neill. “You asked the question whether young Duffy is good enough to be in the Premier League. At this minute I couldn’t really tell you that. I’ve watched him in the Championship games. To make that step up and go and play every single week in the Premier League – totally different issue. Honestly.
“Young [Jack] Grealish gets on as a sub [for Aston Villa against Man City last Wednesday]. It’s great. He’s been at Notts County, sometimes in, sometimes not. I went to see him play – he’s got definite ability. And those are the type of player you are hoping eventually will come through. Maybe not even in the campaign but maybe if we could make it [to the finals].”
All that said, O’Neill didn’t rule out Grealish or others yet being called into the current squad, since the expectation is that, as well as being pared back, it will be revised and rotated before and during the games later this month and in early June. Robbie Keane, for example, might only play in the Stateside matches against Costa Rica and Portugal.
Meanwhile, commenting for the first time on speculation in the recent past which had linked him to a caretaker position at Nottingham Forest, and Roy Keane to an assistant manager’s role at Old Trafford, O’Neill made it clear he intends to see the Irish job through.
“I have a commitment here, this is what I want to do and qualification for me is of the utmost importance,” he said. “If you’re asking about Roy, I don’t run Roy’s life. I think Roy will be a manager himself again, I think that’s what he wants to do and great, absolutely great. I thought, back when we took over in November time, that this type of role would be good for him and I thought, obviously, selfishly, that it would help me.
“Now did I expect him to be linked with Manchester United at that stage? No, not really, but I’ll just have to deal with these things and unless Roy came up and said to me ‘this opportunity to do something is incredibly too good’ then, to me, he’s there with me.”
D Forde (Millwall), D Randolph (Birmingham City), R Elliot (Newcastle United), R Keogh (Derby County), M Wilson (Stoke City), S Coleman (Everton), J O’Shea (Sunderland), A Pearce (Reading), S Kelly (Reading), D Delaney (Crystal Palace), J O’Brien (West Ham), S Duffy (Everton), J McCarthy (Everton), J Hendrick (Derby County), C Clark (Aston Villa), S Ward (Brighton Hove Albion), G Whelan (Stoke City), P Green (Leeds United), A McGeady (Everton), A Pilkington (Norwich City), J McClean (Wigan Athletic), S Quinn (Hull City), D Meyler (Hull City), W Hoolahan (Norwich City), R Keane (LA Galaxy), S Long (Hull City), D Murphy (Ipswich Town), J Walters (Stoke City), K Doyle (QPR).