Make or break time for McCarthy

It’s looking like a make or break week for James McCarthy in his bid to be fit for Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Austria on June 11.

Make or break time for McCarthy

The midfielder, who has returned to full training only this week at Everton, has not been able to play for his club since a recurrence of his hamstring problems saw him withdraw from the Irish team during the warm-up before the scoreless draw with Wales in March.

Although Martin O’Neill has named McCarthy in his provisional squad for the Austria game, which is preceded by friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay, the manager yesterday made it clear that there is a significant asterisk attached to the player’s inclusion.

“I think this week will decide a lot,” O’Neill said yesterday. “We still have time. If he comes through this week unscathed then it might be something we would look at. I’ve put him in provisionally because, according to Everton, he is starting full-time training this week.

“He obviously wouldn’t be involved in their last game but they’ve scanned him — I think there’s some scar tissue, as you would be expecting — and I would say I’d be in a better position to make some sort of judgment maybe by Friday and certainly by early next week.”

While O’Neill is happy to give the player some more time to prove himself, he is not prepared to risk a repeat of his late withdrawal from the team which played Wales.

“He wanted to play the last time and he declared himself fit and it was really unfortunate that he went out and felt it in the warm-up,” he said.

“It’s a different thing between doing some training for a couple of days beforehand and thinking that you are okay, and then the intensity of the game, or the build-up to the game as it was, in injuring himself. The truth is that the one thing that we have to come to accept is that there is no point in bringing somebody who is just half fit. That’s really it.

“If he decides at the end of this week ‘listen, I am absolutely flying, I don’t feel a thing’, that’s a consideration. If he has done three or four days consecutively and he feels nothing and he feels that he is actually doing well, then I have a decision to make. But if he is actually thinking ‘I don’t feel great about this’ then, I feel, you know what, just leave it for this summer.”

McCarthy’s failed attempt to play against Wales sparked an escalation in the war of words between O’Neill and Everton manager Ronald Koeman, with O’Neill branding the Dutchman “a master tactician of the blame game” in response to Koeman’s allegation that O’Neill was not properly protecting the player while on international duty.

Asked yesterday about his acerbic put-down and also what effect the club v country row has had on McCarthy, O’Neill replied: “I don’t think that any little spat between two managers — if that’s what you call it — should really impact on the player.

“I think the player’s relationship with his club manager is obviously of vital importance. And I think their manager apportioned some blame to the player for not dealing with the situation himself. But it came out that it was really my responsibility to look after James.

“I thought at the time — it was a spur of the moment thing and I thought it was quite good (smiles) — that apportioning blame to someone who has not been at their training ground for maybe 25 years, really, I think they should look inwards rather than outwards. That was the point and I still have the same opinion.”

There is one new name in the extended squad which O’Neill unveiled yesterday, with former Cork City man Kevin Long rewarded for his breakthrough into Burnley’s Premier League team with a first international call-up.

“Roy saw him play last week and he said that you shouldn’t discount him,” said O’Neill. “He didn’t do too badly in the game, so hopefully I’ll have a look at him in the game next week if he is playing. And with Ciaran Clark out, it is nice to have competition for places.”

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