Stephen Kenny has suffered another hammer blow to the spine of his starting XI for the beginning of the World Cup qualifying campaign this month after James McCarthy was ruled out with a recurrence of a groin strain.
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson confirmed that the midfielder limped out of the 0-0 draw against Manchester United during the week after breaking down with the same injury that has already hampered him this season.
McCarthy was making his first start in the Premier League since January 30 when he was forced off after an hour, and his club boss reckons it would be “impossible” and “pie in the sky” to suggest he could return in time for international duty.
While Hodgson said a final decision about linking up with Ireland will still be taken by the respective medical departments, he expects McCarthy to be in the treatment room for at least another four weeks. That would rule the midfielder out of the opening qualifier away to Serbia on March 24 followed by Luxembourg’s visit to Dublin three days later.
“It is a definite [groin] strain, there’s no question of that. It’s not an easy strain either because it’s a recurrence of the injury that kept him out for such a long time before,” Hodgson said.
“To suggest it would be anything other than three to four weeks I would think would be unbelievably optimistic.
"But I am optimistic and I am hoping he will get over it.
“But if you’re asking from the Irish point of view will he be fit and ready in 10 days’ time or whatever it is to go and join up with Ireland I would say that’s absolutely impossible.
“But that will be up to the doctors to decide. Our doctors, the Irish docs, and if they can say ‘you’re talking out of your hat there, in fact there’s nothing wrong with the lad’, no one would be happier than me. But I think that’s pie in the sky to be believing that.”
It is just the latest in a line of setbacks for Ireland boss Kenny to have to deal with. Centre back John Egan is already unavailable until around mid April due to a dislocated toe he suffered in action for Sheffield United last month.
Kenny also looks certain to be without the services of the experienced James McClean, and while he has not been a regular starter so far in the Dubliner’s reign his absence in the squad will be keenly felt. Stoke City manager Michael O’Neill said at the end of February that the winger would be out with a foot injury for between “four to six weeks”.
With Bristol City’s Callum O’Dowda also an uncertainty because of his own fitness issues, the latest news of McCarthy’s injury woes is a further spanner in the works for Kenny to deal with.