Martin O’Neill was at pains to stress yesterday that his squad for the game against Serbia next month is only the first word, not the last word.
The Derryman could hardly have been more emphatic when asked if the 29-man panel unveiled in Limerick was, in essence, his squad for the European Championship qualifiers.
“Oh, no, no, no,” he replied. “I’m in the job a couple of months so I’ve seen these players play. One or two have gone out through injury, one or two have come in, and I will still be looking at eligibility for younger players.
“But, who’s to say what might happen over the course of the next 18 months? There might be one or two come through. They don’t necessarily have to be that young but there’s a fairly decent chance that if you’re 25 and you haven’t made this squad, you’re probably not going to be good enough. This is the point: we can’t transfer players, this is what I have.”
Indeed, O’Neill could hardly disguise his disappointment — which he said is shared by Roy Keane — at the apparent dearth of young Irish football talent.
“It is a real concern, absolutely,” he admitted. “In the back of my mind, I thought, ‘well there must be five, six, seven young lads playing who will maybe break through’ and that may be the case but at this minute I haven’t spotted it. Maybe I’m in the wrong place. I’ve got other people out looking but I haven’t seen it. There are obviously one or two exceptions who at this moment have not, through the eligibility rule, declared that they want to play for Ireland but outside that, no, I haven’t seen it.
“I think he [Keane] would have the same sort of frustrations about the lack of young talent coming through. A lot of players he would be watching he would know pretty well.”
As for any quality newcomers who might be available under the so-called ‘Granny Rule’, their conspicuous absence from O’Neill’s first squad also suggests there are fewer out there than many pundits had imagined, a point the manager himself was not slow to drive home.
“There are one or two names that have been bandied around that I would say, ‘yeah’. And there’s one or two names that have been bandied around that I wouldn’t have given a prayer to. They wouldn’t be my preference. One or two were a bit left-field. I wouldn’t have put them in anybody’s squad. Alright?”
While O’Neill was not inclined to identify the particular targets he’s working on, he did report that Patrick Bamford — the highly rated Chelsea striker on loan at Derby County — has not ruled himself out of playing for Ireland. And the manager also said that, at a later date, he would “revisit” Ipswich Town striker David McGoldrick who, unfortunately, is set to miss the rest of the season as a result of a knee ligament injury.
“It might be interesting to see what sort of squad we might have, say, in a year’s time,” O’Neill mused. “If young talent at this minute is not there, it might develop.”
The upshot of all this is a distinct air of familiarity about O’Neill’s first squad, summed up perhaps by the fact that — barring the not entirely unexpected absence of Stephen Ireland and Shay Given — the biggest talking point may well be the recall, after six years, of Ipswich Town striker Daryl Murphy, who gets his chance in part because O’Neill is allowing Robbie Keane an international match off so that he can settle into the new season at LA Galaxy following surgery.
O’Neill also revealed that, when it comes to trimming his provisional 29-man squad in the coming days, he may well allow another veteran, Richard Dunne, to stay with QPR. “From a year ago when he thought his career was finished, even to be playing is good news for him,” said O’Neill.
He confirmed friendly games against Turkey in Dublin on May 25 and against Italy, most likely at Craven Cottage on May 31, but there is still no confirmation of a game against Portugal in New Jersey on June 10.
O’Neill added: “Now that we have those two games, I would like a third one but I’m aware of the fact that there would only be a 10-day break and you might find players going back to their clubs and the summer was no use to them. I would have 10 friendly games if possible but you have to think of the players.”
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