Roy Keane has said that the most recent updates on James McCarthy’s hamstring injury meant there was simply no point in his being called to Dublin for assessment by the Irish medical staff.
And he revealed that manager Martin O’Neill and the player discussed his situation before the midfielder was finally left out of the squad which will travel to Vienna for Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria.
McCarthy is the third first-choice player — along with Shane Long and Stephen Ward — who will definitely miss the game, while only yesterday it emerged that there are now fresh doubts over James McClean’s availability.
But McCarthy’s absence because of a hamstring problem has become the major injury talking point in light of the war of words which erupted between O’Neill and Everton manager Ronald Koeman over the midfielder’s presence in Ireland’s last two back-to-back qualifiers following a spell on the sidelines due to groin surgery.
“There is a big difference between being injured and being doubtful,” said Keane of McCarthy’s current problem.
“He’s badly enough injured so there was no point in bringing him over.”
And while McCarthy may have found himself between a rock and hard place in this club versus country dispute, Keane made it clear he has no doubts about the player’s commitment to the Irish cause.
“I know that James has played many times for Ireland when we know that it has been touch and go,” he said.
“If a player is injured, then he’s injured. But if it’s touch and go, sometimes you have to leave it with the player. James has done that a number of times and Seamus Coleman has done that a number of times. Seamus turned up the last number of times and had not played for a while and there was not too much of a problem then.”
The assistant manager stood shoulder to shoulder with O’Neill in robustly rejecting Koeman’s assertion that Ireland put McCarthy’s fitness at risk by playing him against Georgia and Moldova last month.
“I’ve not really got involved, but coming out and saying we’re taking unnecessary risks with any player, not just the Everton players, he couldn’t be further off the mark,” said Keane.
“The issue is not with the players, it’s with the clubs. From a selfish point of view, they’re going to fight their corner, and rightly so.
But we have to say: ‘Listen, you’ve got good Ireland players, and doing well in international football certainly helps them at club level’.
“Clubs complain about internationals but any time these clubs are selling these players, you ring up and it’s: ‘Oh well, he’s an Ireland international’ (and that) adds in a few million. You’re happy to say that, but you’re not happy when they have to come and play. Give us a break, know what I mean?
“This idea that we are taking risks or overloading a player is so far off the mark that you would not believe it.
“I think we have been too far the other way with players. We’ve turned a blind eye sometimes. Lots of players have missed qualifying matches and have been fit for their clubs a couple of days later.
“We’ve had to take our medicine on that side of it.
“This idea of overloading, I think Koeman could not be further from the truth. I look at Everton and maybe Everton have to toughen up. They get lots of injuries with players who are not playing international football so they might have a look at themselves at club level.
“I think sometimes as a coach or a manager at a club like Everton, you’d want players playing lots of matches because that’s down to being successful. Remind me, when did Everton last win a trophy?”
That would be 1995 when they beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final — a United side which featured a certain Roy Keane.
“I was out there, yeah, and they were the luckiest team on the planet that day,” he said to laughter.
“They bloody were! We missed about 10 chances.”
Returning to the McCarthy controversy, he continued: “A club like Everton — if you are a half decent club — then, my God, you expect your players to be going away playing international football because you would like to think that is the status of your club. When I was manager of Sunderland and lads were going away for internationals, I was delighted. Possibly glad to see the back of them for a few days as well! But delighted that they were representing their countries and representing the club. That’s what you want.
“Do Real Madrid and Barcelona get upset when their players travel? Manchester United? At clubs like that you expect your players to be going on international duty. If it’s international week and you are at your club with 20 players staying behind, you’re going: ‘My God, we are struggling’.
“We have had a problem previously with (former Everton manager Roberto) Martinez — I think he was slightly over the top. Every time, we felt, the Everton players were turning up — and this is not a criticism of the players, this is more from Everton and their staff — they were always carrying knocks.
“I always felt the Everton players were going to turn up on crutches or crawling in the hotel door, and now it looks like we are probably going to have that issue again with Koeman. I hope not.”
Asked if he considered it important for the Irish management to have a good relationship with the Goodison Park club, Keane shot back: “No, not really, no. Why? Why do we need a good relationship with Everton? Listen, they’re lucky to have the Irish lads they’ve got there, and Everton traditionally have always had brilliant Irish players doing well for the football club, so they shouldn’t be so quick to stop Irish players coming to play for Ireland.”
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