With the crunch Euro qualifier against Scotland just over a month away, two of his regulars have already had their club destinies determined in depressing fashion, with David Forde and James McClean now forced to contemplate life in League 1 – or else summer moves that would take them to brighter climes – after Rotherham’s 2-1 victory over Reading on Tuesday confirmed that Millwall and Wigan Athletic have both been relegated.
By contrast, squad new boy Harry Arter is looking forward to life in the top-flight after Bournemouth completed their fairytale promotion to the Premier League. Or at least they will do this Saturday if the world doesn’t tilt on its axis. (Or as opponents Charlton wryly put it on their official twitter feed: “Bournemouth celebrating like they’ve completely ruled out a 19-0 defeat at The Valley. We’ll see...”).
In any event, the importance of being upwardly mobile in football was neatly underlined by Bournemouth’s Arter after their 3-0 win against Bolton.
“Playing at the highest level can only be a good thing for my international prospects,” he said. “Getting the call from Martin O’Neill for the qualifier against Poland last month fulfilled an ambition so, hopefully, I can go on and make my debut in the coming months.”
For David Forde the past month has been as challenging as Arter’s has been celebratory, relegation with his club having been preceded by the loss of the Number 1 Irish jersey to Shay Given for the 1-1 draw with Poland. And with the veteran now gearing up for an FA Cup Final – while Forde is forced to cool his competitive heels for the guts of five weeks once his season ends on Saturday — the stark contrast in their respective situations only adds to the certainty that, barring an injury setback, Given will retain the shirt for the June meeting with Scotland.
Despite his club woes, McLean’s situation internationally does look brighter than Forde’s, the Derryman having been widely credited with helping turn the tide against the Poles when he came off the bench at the Aviva Stadium. As a result, he must be in with a strong chance of starting against Scotland but, longer-term, a player who was lighting up the Premier League on his introduction at Sunderland by Martin O’Neill just three years ago, will be doing himself no favours if he’s toiling in England’s third tier next season.
Better news for O’Neill this week came with Hull City’s 1-0 victory over Liverpool which has lifted the Tigers to four points clear of the relegation zone – and, lest we forget, two above Aston Villa who, despite all the good vibes in Birmingham these days, still have work to do to make sure their season doesn’t yet go pear-shaped.
Ireland’s Steven Quinn, Paul McShane and Robbie Brady all played their part in Hull’s crucial win, with Steve Bruce happy to acknowledge the contribution of his green contingent.
“We caused them a threat,” said the Hull boss. “Our two wing-backs, Brady in particular in the first half, caused them all sorts of problems. You can’t underestimate what those three Irish lads bring to the side.”
Meanwhile, with Bournemouth and champions Watford – the latter including Irish U21 centre-half Tommie Hoban – already promoted to the top flight, Martin O’Neill will be paying special attention to the final day in the regular season of the Championship on Saturday because, with Norwich already into the play-offs and Ipswich and Derby County currently occupying top six spots, it means squad regulars like Wes Hoolahan, Daryl Murphy, Jeff Hendrick and Richard Keogh can all still afford to dream of Premier League football next season.