Having upped sticks from Malahide, the Irish squad will get a first taste of their new Dublin base when they step out on Pitch Number One at the National Training Centre in Abbotstown this morning, to begin preparations for the European Championship double-header away to Gibraltar in Faro on Friday and at home to Georgia in the Aviva Stadium on the following Monday.
O’Neill reduced his provisional 37-man squad to 28 at the weekend, with Brentford’s Alan Judge, Reading’s Simon Cox, Newcastle’s Rob Elliot and Celtic’s Anthony Stokes all being placed on the stand-by list.
Forced out through injury from the original panel are Sheffield Wednesday’s Keiren Westwood, Preston North End’s Greg Cunningham, the Ipswich Town duo of Daryl Murphy and David McGolddrick, and Bournemouth’s Harry Arter, who has undergone surgery in a bid to resolve a persistent groin problem.
The midfielder’s Premier League season has been a non-starter since he incurred the problem after making his Irish debut, against England last June and, having gone under the knife in Munich on Thursday, he will only begin his rehabilitation next wee.
Arter’s Bournemouth teammate Eunan O’Kate, a new call-up, and another uncapped player, and in-form Aberdeen striker Adam Rooney have both been retained in the manager’s trimmed-down squad.
O’Neill was at St Mary’s yesterday for what was a frustrating day for the Irish players involved, with Wes Hoolahan sacrificed after just half an hour when Norwich had Steven Whittaker sent off. While Robbie Brady did get to see out the 90 minutes, it was also game to forget for the Dubliner as Southampton ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against the 10-man Canaries, with Shane Long confined to the bench throughout for the Saints.
With no further injuries reported from the weekend, 27 of the Irish players were due to assemble at their new hotel in Castleknock last night, while Kevin Doyle — who scored the winning goal for Colorado Rapids against Kansas City on Saturday, his fourth in nine outings — is expected to fly in this morning.
Meanwhile, new Gibraltar manager Jeff Wood is looking for signs of progress from his semi-pro players who lost 7-0 to Ireland when the sides met in Dublin last October.
“It’s a progression of performance which we are looking to achieve,” he said this week.
“We have to move away from the park-the-bus mentality, which we have shown we can do.”
Ireland squad v Gibraltar and Georgia:
David Forde, Shay Given, Darren Randolph, Richard Keogh, Marc Wilson, Seamus Coleman, Cyrus Christie, John O’Shea, Alex Pearce, Ciaran Clark, Paul McShane, James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, Stephen Ward, Glenn Whelan, Eunan O’Kane, Aiden McGeady, James McClean, Robbie Brady, Anthony Pilkington, Stephen Quinn, David Meyler, Wes Hoolahan, Robbie Keane, Shane Long, Jon Walters, Kevin Doyle, Adam Rooney.
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