Mick McCarthy expects both James McClean and Enda Stevens to be available for Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off game away to Slovakia on March 26.
Stoke City’s McClean suffered a medial ligament knee injury playing against Preston on February 12 but intensive rehab appears to be working in his favour and he has now told the Ireland manager he expects to be back in club action before the big game in Bratislava.
Stoke boss Michael O’Neill yesterday sounded a somewhat more cautious note, implying McClean won’t quite be ready in time for next week’s trip to Reading. “James is just going to be a little longer than we anticipated so we have to monitor that one,” he said.
For his part, McCarthy was heartened by what he heard from McClean. “James has told me he is very close to a return to action with Stoke after his knee injury while Enda was taken off early in the second half of Sheffield United’s 1-0 win over Norwich on Saturday with some tightness in his calf,” said the manager.
“They are confident they will be fit for the play-off and that’s good to hear.”
With McCarthy due to name his squad on Friday, Jack Byrne’s excellent run of form has put the Shamrock Rovers playmaker firmly in the manager’s thoughts.
“If Jack is in the squad on Friday — and there’s every chance he will be — then he will be in on form,” McCarthy told FAI.ie
“I was impressed with him in Tallaght against Dundalk and he carried that form into the game in Sligo (on Saturday night). Jack’s been with us for the past year and he is developing as a player as we want him to. He has a spark about him and can do something different. That could be very handy in a tight play-off game.”
Josh Cullen is another midfielder who impressed when McCarthy watched him playing for Charlton in Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough. “After his injury problems earlier in the season, Josh is back to fitness and back to his best as he showed me again on Saturday,” said McCarthy. “He is very close to a first competitive cap and has been pushing for a place in my team for some time now, never mind the squad.
“Terry Connor watched Glenn Whelan control the game for Fleetwood at Ipswich last week so we are very well served in that central midfield role.”
Up front, Scott Hogan maintained his hot scoring streak with another goal for loan club Birmingham. “That’s seven goals in nine games now,” said McCarthy. “Terry has seen a lot of Scott in recent weeks and his confidence is sky high. That’s not a surprise with the way he has been scoring goals for Birmingham.
“This latest loan move has worked out really well for Scott and for Ireland as well. If he brings those goalscoring boots to Slovakia we will all be happy.”