Martin O’Neill offers gloomy assessment on Stephen Ward’s race for fitness

Stephen Ward would appear to be in an unwinnable race against time for the Euro 2016 meeting with Poland after Martin O’Neill revealed the player was due to undergo minor surgery on his ankle.

The Burnley full-back has seen only three minutes of first-football since December because of the problem and, while the Ireland manager is still refusing to rule him out of contention for Sunday, this latest setback suggests he has little hope of making the cut.

Speaking at Gannon Park yesterday, O’ Neill explained: “Stephen has a bit of a problem with his ankle. We think we’re getting to the bottom of it now with a couple of scans.

“He’s heading off with the club’s permission with Alan our doctor and I think he’s getting a little operation. He has some screws in there which are irritating him at the moment. They’re sorting that out and that should be a couple of days. And the length of time he’s played, and the little game time that he has had, would be a bit of a concern.”

Hull’s Robbie Brady, back sooner than expected from a calf injury, is another who will be monitored closely over the next few days.

“He’s pretty fit and he went brilliantly there,” said the manager immediately after the squad’s training session. “I know it’s only a small training session but as we build up over the course of the week, hopefully he won’t have a problem.”

O’Neill also had encouraging news on Aiden McGeady, even though he has been out of action at Everton, initially with a knee problem, for 11 games on the trot.

“I think he’s been fit,” said O’Neill. “He did exactly the same work that Robbie did and he’s come through that fine so I don’t think that that was the reason he was not playing (for Everton) on Sunday.”

However, Stoke’s Glenn Whelan is another concern with a hamstring problem.

“He’s done some straight running today, just with the physio, and he’s not feeling so bad,” O’Neill reported. “So, again, he’s got a few days yet but, yeah, he’s got a bit of a problem. That said, he was on the bench on Saturday so he thinks he’s going to be okay. It’s really a question of monitoring that for the next couple of days.”

With Whelan a worry and fellow midfielder Jeff Hendrick already out, O’Neill will also be hoping Darron Gibson overcomes a groin issue.

All of which are considerations which O’Neill will need to factor into his team selection for, as he put it yesterday: “I wouldn’t want to be gambling with too many players’ fitness, certainly in the starting team.”

Three players — Robbie Keane, newcomer Harry Arter and Jon Walters — were due to arrive in camp last night, with O’Neill saying of the Stoke striker’s recovery from a fractured cheekbone: “He’s pretty upbeat. He’s got a (protective) mask and played for the last few minutes in the Stoke game. He did well to put himself forward and then there is this week. I think he is feeling fine.”


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