Martin O’Neill has defended Ireland’s handling of the injury-prone James McCarthy but, overnight, Ronald Koeman has strongly criticised both the player and the Ireland manager for the ultimately unfruitful decision to select him for last week’s World Cup qualifier against Wales.
The Everton boss alleged in the Daily Mirror: “It was a final decision against the medical staff of Ireland and also against the medical staff of Everton. And there are two people responsible for that. One is the player himself. Finally, if he says, ‘Yes, I’m fit’, okay but even the player needs protection from the manager and, once again, they didn’t give that protection to the player.”
Speaking before being made aware of the precise nature of Koeman’s allegations, O'Neill had said that it’s chiefly up to Everton and McCarthy to try to find a solution to his recurring hamstring problems, after the midfielder had seemingly recovered in time to be named in Friday’s starting XI only to then pull up during the pre-match warm-up.
“First of all, I think we should put a couple of things to bed,” he said, “speaking in the wake of the friendly defeat to Iceland. “James wants to play for us but it just seems to be quite often when he has come to us that he’s just recovering from an injury, and the time element seems to fall on us on whether you play him or don’t play him.
“James wanted to play in the game, and there (had been) a fairly lengthy time from when he picked up the injury. He had a bit of setback but he was back running and, the things he did in the couple days of training we had, he was very happy with. But we all know training is totally different to what you’re doing at match level, and that was a bit of a concern. But he’s important for us.”
While O’Neill again stressed that McCarthy “wanted to play and was fit to play” against the Welsh, he added that, in terms of the player’s match fitness, as manager he had expected he would probably have review to situation at half-time and was prepared to substitute him if required.
“But I wasn’t thinking he was going to pull up in the warm-up,” he said, “but he overstretched himself.” O’Neill also indicated that, even then, McCarthy thought he might still be able to play in the game but, at that point, the decision was taken to withdraw him from the side.
The Derryman also said that he feels the Irish management and medical staff are having to cope with the consequences of an injury issue which can only be fully dealt with at Goodison Park. “What he does at club level is something that’s outside our jurisdiction and outside our control, and I think that hamstring problem that he’s continually having, that’s got to be addressed by him and his club more than anything else,” he said.
“We’re trying to pick up the bits of this here but it’s not a fight... “I’m really surprised you’re telling me (about first reports of Everton’s dismay). If you’re looking at the length of time he hasn’t been with us and the times that he’s missed matches, either by not being picked or picking up a niggling injury, that’s something the club and James will have to look at because we’re not in control of him, we only have him these (few) days and we’re guided by James and our staff. The reason it seems to be more pronounced is because of the historical things seemingly between this country and Everton.”
O’Neill had no success in an initial attempt to make contact with the Everton manager following the devastating injury suffered in the match against Wales by Seamus Coleman. “Seamus Coleman’s injury was the most important thing of the weekend, first and foremost, because at club level you’re talking about a really important player too,” he said.
“Actually, if I can just say, the protocol is medical staff to medical staff phoning each other. I was a club manager and I never once received a call from an international manager about one of my players even though I picked up injuries. I accepted that as a fact, you curse your luck, but I never once picked up a call.
“But I did leave a call (with Everton). (FAI Director of Communications) Ian (Mallon) talked to their press officer and I gave the press officer my number through Ian for him (Koeman) to call me. You’d like to have a conversation (but) there was no response. So, ok, fine, I can still call, I haven’t a problem with it.”
Meanwhile, following Daryl Horgan’s encouraging debut on Tuesday, O’Neill has talked up the chances of the former Dundalk man featuring over the course of the remaining World Cup qualifiers.
“Why shouldn’t he? Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Sometimes players get on the field of play but, for one reason or another, they’re not able to get into the game. And because you’re wide, you are depending on people giving you the ball. But he got it and he dealt with it very well, except for one where he overloaded. But he put that to the side and put in two fantastic balls. For the length of the time he was on the field, he should be very pleased.”
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