Martin O’Neill taking nothing for granted ahead of Republic of Ireland's World Cup qualifiers

In the run-up to the back-to-back World Cup qualifiers at home to Georgia and away to Moldova, a depleted Irish squad held its first training session of the week at Abbotstown yesterday.

Martin O’Neill taking nothing for granted ahead of Republic of Ireland's World Cup qualifiers

It came to a backdrop of injury issues having forced extensive change in Martin O’Neill’s panel and with significant question marks attached to a couple of players.

Definitely out of the games are Daryl Murphy (calf) Stephen Quinn (knee), Aiden McGeady (hamstring), Anthony Pilkington (quad), Kevin Doyle (ankle), and Keiren Westwood (thigh), while rated doubtful but still under assessment, are Harry Arter (groin) and James McCarthy (groin).

Arguably, of that group, only McCarthy would be considered a certain starter for Ireland and, while the manager acknowledged that the player was “optimistic” about his rate of progress after groin surgery, O’Neill himself didn’t sound too confident that the Everton man would actually win his fitness battle in time to feature in the two games.

“I know that he’s been doing some work, but obviously he hasn’t played for some time,” said O’Neill.

“He’s optimistic, but we’ll see how the training sessions go with him. He’s keen to play.

“If these games were coming up in 10 or 12 days time I wouldn’t have any problem and I don’t think he would have any problem.

“It’s just they’ve come a wee bit too quickly for him.”

With Murphy and Doyle ruled out, Aberdeen’s in-form striker Adam Rooney has been called up, as has Manchester City goalkeeper Ian Lawlor who, along with new boy Danny Rogers, makes for what the manager concedes is inexperienced back-up for Darren Randolph between the sticks.

Bandon-born Conor Hourihane of Barnsley, who was in the original panel, hasn’t retained his place in O’Neill’s reduced squad of 27, while Marc Wilson also drops out, mainly because of lack of game time at club level, with O’Neill saying he is well covered in the defensive positions.

However, that’s certainly not the case at the other end of the pitch.

“I don’t think I would be giving away too many secrets when I say that maybe there’s a dearth of Irish international players capable of playing in that position,” said O’Neill.

“We have Shane [Long] and we have Jon [Walters].

“At a push and in a different style we could play James McClean in that aspect, but Adam [Rooney] comes in and, if he gets an opportunity, I’m sure he’d like to shine.”

Having broken the double-figures mark for goals last season for Southampton in the Premier League, Long finds himself restricted to appearances off the bench for the Saints and has now gone 17 games for club and country without finding the net.

“It would be nice if the players coming in here were playing and scoring a few goals, but even if they had a few goals, there would be no guarantee they would score against Georgia,” O’Neill observed.

“Obviously, it is better if you are doing well. That is a given.

“We have lost Robbie Keane, who has been the natural goal-scorer. He was the one who you thought could conjure you a goal.

“We don’t really have that. Jon Walters could nip in and get you something.

“As I have said to you before, Shane is the scorer of some really, really great goals and I want him to get into positions to score more often, but I don’t think him seemingly not being a regular with Southampton would affect us, because we would have to rely on certain players and Shane has been excellent for us in the past.”

Despite the injury distractions, the focus for O’Neill — who always takes it one game at a time — is on the challenge provided by Georgia. Even though they face the two teams seeded lowest in the group, he is refusing to take anything for granted.

“A reasonably decent friend of mine who knows nothing about football, spoke to me a few days ago and he mentioned ‘if you can get six points on the board’... I nearly throttled him. It’s not like that.

“These games are difficult for us. Dangerous games. Georgia will cause us the same sort of problems as they did in the two games [in the Euro qualifiers].

“I thought the first game was very tight. It was our first game as it was for them.

“By the time we played them again, we’d beaten Gibraltar and the crowd were really up for it, but it took us a long time to break them down and they caused us a few problems.

“I don’t think we could be treating anybody lightly. Even if we were at full strength, we couldn’t do it. I’m concerned about the game.

“No thoughts at all about Moldova until we play this match and that’s the message to the players.”

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