Ireland will resume competitive action in that competition when they play Wales at the Aviva in September, followed by Denmark away and the Welsh in Dublin in October, before concluding at home to the Danes in November.
Asked about the prospects of the Everton midfielder — who suffered a dreadful double-leg break in January — recovering in time for the September kick off, O’Neill said yesterday: “I can’t imagine him being fit for those games but he’s doing fine.”
On Robbie Brady, whose season was also ended prematurely by a serious knee injury, the manager was happy to report that “he is making really good progress at this minute and they are all very pleased with the way he’s progressing.”
The Burnley player will not be available for the upcoming games against Celtic, France, and the USA, however, and it has also emerged that Aiden McGeady is another familiar face who is unlikely to feature after a disappointing end to his season at troubled Sunderland.
“He has got a problem with his heel,” said O’Neill. “He has been injected for the last number of weeks and when relegation finally came he missed out on Friday’s game. It’s been a fall from grace for the football club for a start and I’m sure it’s not something he envisaged when he joined — it’s not that long since he was playing in the Champions League.”
As to the player’s longer-term future as an international, O’Neill commented: “If the heel problem doesn’t clear up we will perhaps leave him for the summer and see where we stand but he hasn’t mentioned retirement.”
On that subject, it has been widely speculated that the home friendly against the USA could double as a farewell for a couple of senior figures in the squad, among them possibly John O’Shea and Glenn Whelan.
O’Neill declined to go into specifics yesterday but did indicate that he would have something to say on the matter next week.
Another of the great stalwarts, Jon Walters, has already made clear he wants to extend his international career and, having recovered his fitness, will be in line for selection for the end of season fixtures.
“Jon wants to continue,” said O’Neill. “At this minute, I suppose, with only Shane Long and the other two lads (Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan) quite young, having Jon in terms of experience wouldn’t be a bad thing. He’s not feeling too bad. Of course, as you get older injuries are harder to shake off.”
As established internationals decide whether to soldier on or gracefully retire, replenishment of the squad from the bottom up continues, although O’Neill is anxious to keep expectations in proportion.
From studying Sidney FC’s Brandon O’Neill on DVD, O’Neill has concluded that the defensive midfielder — who has an Irish passport — has “definitely got ability” while Millwall’s Shaun Williams, the manager observed, has had “a really good season” and is “under consideration”.
O’Neill also reaffirmed Preston striker Callum Robinson’s desire to answer Ireland’s call.
“He’s declared for us,” said the manager. “I went to see the game on Saturday, the Sheffield United game, (and he’s) a nice little footballer. Lots of these players have work to do lads, a number of players we have mentioned are not the finished article. But at least he, without coaxing, wants to come and play. So, you know, I always think that’s a half-decent step if the player wants to come in.”
On which subject, O’Neill made it clear that when it comes to the will-he-won’t-he saga of Reading’s Liam Kelly, the manager has no intention of doing the chasing.
“The comment from the club was that he wanted to keep his options open in case England came calling,” said O’Neill, after Kelly declined a call-up for the training camp and friendly in Turkey in March, later citing fitness concerns and personal reasons for his decision.
“I haven’t a problem with that. Am I going to go and see him after that? No. if the players want to come and say: ‘Listen here, I’ve had a think about it and I fancy it,’ that’s a different proposition. At the end of it all, I’m not going to push it. It’s up to the players.”
Ireland’s summer schedule, which features games against France in Paris on May 28 and the USA in Dublin on June 2, opens with a trip to Glasgow to play Celtic in Scott Brown’s testimonial on May 20, a match for which O’Neill says he expects to “mix and match” his selection.
“There’s a couple of lads I’ll give time off too,” he said.
“They had known about these games (France and USA) and tried to organise something at the end of the season for their families to get away so I didn’t see any point in calling them back. But I still want to be competitive. It’s not an international game but players will be wearing a green shirt. If one or two players do get in, it might be their opportunity to go and really shine.”
Martin O’Neill and women’s senior manager Colin Bell were at the Aviva Stadium yesterday to launch the 2018 SportsDirect FAI Summer Soccer Schools programme.