James McClean is out of the Republic of Ireland’s opening Euro 2016 qualifier in Georgia.
The 25-year-old Wigan midfielder has not regained full match-fitness after recovering from an ankle injury and manager Martin O’Neill has reluctantly ruled him out of Sunday’s game in Tbilisi.
O’Neill had hoped to play McClean in Wednesday night’s 2-0 friendly victory over Oman at the Aviva Stadium, but he did not even make the bench and has now been withdrawn from the squad.
The manager said: “James McClean, unfortunately, has not come through. It’s not that he has picked up any fresh injury or anything like that. James is disappointed, in a sense. He thinks he is further on.
“My concern with James really is while the injury has healed up, he hasn’t played that much contact football. We put him in yesterday, he didn’t do too badly at all, but I thought everything was just maybe too much for him.
“Wigan weren’t really that keen about him playing either, and I understand that from a club viewpoint.
“If he did maybe pull a hamstring or a calf muscle in an attempt to strive for full fitness, then he might miss the games next month. At least now he has got that chance to get to get ready.
“He is not in the squad for Sunday.”
McClean’s absence will be a blow with O’Neill having used him extensively in his previous games in charge, but the 62-year-old was at least able to take positives from a win over admittedly modest opposition.
After a tepid start, Kevin Doyle headed the Republic into a 20th-minute lead from Robbie Brady’s corner, his 14th senior international goal.
However, despite creating a series of chances – Alex Pearce and substitute Aiden McGeady both had efforts cleared off the line and David Meyler and McGeady also hit the woodwork – they were unable to kill the game off until Pearce stabbed home nine minutes from time.
It was his second goal for Ireland with the first also coming against Oman on his debut two years ago.
O’Neill said: “I thought beforehand that we would need the game, and I think it was proved.
“We had a chance to look at Darron Gibson and Robbie Brady, (who) I hadn’t seen play for us, anyway – I obviously haven’t seen much of Darron Gibson at all in the last couple of years, so I thought the game was needed.
“It’s nice to win – there’s plenty of improvement [needed], obviously, with Tbilisi on Sunday, but it was just nice to win the game and for things to work out.”
Gibson got 70 minutes under his belt before being replaced by Glenn Whelan moments after picking up a booking for an agricultural challenge on Eid Al Farsi, and there was a 126th senior cap for keeper Shay Given more than two years after he announced his retirement from international football.
Whether either man is involved in Tbilisi remains to be seen with O’Neill having kept most of his key players in reserve.
However, the wait to play the first competitive game since he was appointed as Giovanni Trapattoni’s successor in November last year is almost over, and he admits he cannot wait to get started.
O’Neill said: “It’s been a long, long time, a really long period. I remember sitting here in November time away back after the match against Latvia and maybe thinking this day would never come around.
“It’s here upon us, we have got the whole campaign starting off on Sunday. I’m just having a look at the fixture list here, where we have got a host of away games, then we have got some matches at home, and it will be a long road.”