Martin O’Neill has expressed concern about the psychological impact on Darron Gibson of the injury problems which have sidelined him for much of the last two years.
The Ireland manager was speaking after the Everton midfielder was yesterday banned from driving, ordered to pay compensation and sentenced to 200 hours of community service for a drink-driving offence near his home in Bowden, Cheshire on August 16, in which, after his car hit a cyclist. The Derryman drove off before pulling into a filling station, colliding with a petrol pump.
Although Gibson is not in O’Neill’s current squad, the manager said he would speak to him about the drink-driving conviction.
“I certainly would, yes,” he said. “I think that, first things first, the club would have a chat with him. I’m sure they are not too happy with the situation. For us, he has not been around the scene too much for some quite considerable time. So if he wants me to have a word with him... (although) I’m sure he’s not that bothered whether I have had a word with him or not. He has more issues on his mind than an international manager phoning him to find out how many hours he is doing.”
Since October 2013, Gibson has endured cruciate ligament, fractured metatarsal and, most recently, stomach and hernia problems, severely limiting the 27-year-old’s game time with both Everton and Ireland.
“The number of games that he has not played in the last couple of years is kind of worrying,” O’Neill conceded.
“And you get to that stage when you are never properly fit. And it looks like Darron, for one reason or another, has not been properly fit for some considerable time.
While O’Neill accepted Gibson’s drink-driving offence was “serious”, the manager opted for humour when asked if the fact that two other internationals, Jeff Hendrick and Anthony Stokes, are currently due before the Dublin courts, suggested wider grounds for concern about the off the field behavIour of the present generation of Irish footballers.
“We might just have a bad bunch, y’know?” he said to laughter
. “Statistically speaking, it’s not great, is it?”
Still, with tongue firmly in cheek, he later mused on the proximity of Wormwood Scrubs and Strangeways to airports and, amid further media hilarity, imagined a scenario in which, as a manager, he is obliged to call to a prison with a request for a player to be let out for a day to play a game.
And when it was put to him that a sentence of community service might actually involve playing for Ireland, O’Neill responded: “Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. That could be the biggest punishment of all.”
Of more immediate concern for the manager is that Hendrick is an injury worry ahead of Friday’s game against Gibraltar after the Derby man went over on his ankle in training while, at the request of Everton, James McCarthy is having a scan on his knee.
“I was speaking to Alan (Byrne, Irish team doctor) and more importantly the player (McCarthy), and the player’s not too concerned, so that’s OK,” said O’Neill.
“I think it’s something Everton wanted to do so, fine, we’ll fall into line and go with it. I can’t envisage a problem at the moment. If it is, it might not be anything to do with the scan - obviously your concern would be training, like something that happened with Jeff today. I think Jeff hopes he will be okay himself but those would be the things that concern me in the next couple of days of training.”
Meanwhile, one player who is definitely fit and raring to go is Robbie Brady who says he’s “buzzing “ to be at Premier League Norwich following his move from Hull City and, increasingly, coming to grips with the left-back role for club and country.
“The more I play there, the more familiar you are with it,” he says. “Playing every week in the Premier League, you’re testing yourself against players at the top level. It’s perfect coming into these international games. I’ve grown up as an attacking minded player so I’ve had to change my ways, but I don’t really mind. I’m not looking too far ahead and I’m not saying this is going to be my position.
“It’s not really up to me. If I’m asked to play somewhere, then I’m going to play. It’s only a good thing.”
That ability to grow and adapt is something that he had to learn when he left Dublin for Manchester United as a wide-eyed 16 year old.
“When I first went over it was the biggest club in the world and, me coming over from back here, it took me a while to get to grips with what it really took,” he reflects.
“I was still in awe when I went over. I’d been watching these (players) since I was a baby, the best players in the world, and then you find yourself in training and eating with them, day in, day out.
“It’s a good learning curve and seeing how it was done properly has definitely served me well in my career.
“I always wanted to play at the highest level but knowing what it takes was a big thing. But I feel on the road now. I know what I want and I’m setting goals for myself, and hopefully I can keep on going.”
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