Martin O’Neill lavished praise on John O’Shea yesterday but, in his usual deadpan style, couldn’t resist a mischievous dig at the retiree’s scoring record for Ireland.
“Well, he mentioned the goal he scored [against Germany]. This will be, what, his 118th cap? And that fantastic record of three goals (laughter). And considering the number of times he went up for corner kicks. In fact, I used to tell him ‘don’t go up John, don’t bother’.”
For the friendly against the USA, O’Neill might just be telling the man of the hour something different on a night when O’Shea will lead out the Irish team and play at least part of the first half, because the manager’s options up front have shrunk yet again with the news Shane Long will be absent with a knee injury.
On a happier note, both Jeff Hendrick and Harry Arter are available for selection while O’Neill confirmed that, though he has not yet decided if Graham Burke will start, the League of Ireland flag bearer will “definitely participate in the game and hopefully for a decent period”.
The manager has suggested it was Shamrock Rovers’ decision to leave their star man out of their game against Dundalk last night.
“It was a nice gesture of Shamrock Rovers not to play Graham in a very important game,” said O’Neill yesterday.
“But they were the ones — I didn’t put it to them. And he has done very well in training. He’s got a really nice touch and he is comfortable with it and I have said to him that this should give him an amazing boost of confidence.
The USA come into tonight’s game on the back of a 3-0 victory over Bolivia which was also their third clean sheet in a row under Dave Sarachan. The caretaker manager said: “This will be by far our biggest test since our match against Portugal back in November (a 1-1 draw), which is what these games are about — a wonderful stay and a great atmosphere.
“We come with a pretty young group. So we expect a real test, a good match, a hard game, which is what these games should be.”
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