O’Neill waits on McCarthy, Whelan

Martin O'Neill

Martin O’Neill is prepared to play the waiting game on Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy as the two midfielders look to prove their fitness for Friday night’s Euro qualifier against Scotland in Celtic Park.

While the injury Whelan sustained against Germany was initially described as a leg fracture, sources now suggest it was more of a chipped bone, which would help explain his much faster than anticipated recovery.

And the news that McCarthy was judged by the Irish squad team doctor not to require a scan on his suspect hamstring must also be an encouraging sign though he will continue to be assessed on a daily basis.

It also remains to be seen if O’Neill would consider it simply too great a risk to start both players against Scotland. “Glenn has had a really strong training session with Stoke on Monday,” said the manager. “He’s followed that up today (with Ireland) and we’ll play it very much day by day. He’s pretty good. Again he wanted to come over and we have total permission from Stoke (for him) to do so. It’s just what he’s capable of doing and it would be more, I think, (a matter of) fitness — remember he has hardly done a thing since the game against Germany. In the case of James, it’s only less than 48 hours since he had a strain. He has played a lot of games and it’s one of those situations where you would have to wait until the last minute.”

When McCarthy – and Seamus Coleman – missed Ireland’s game against Germany last month yet were able to play just a few days later for Everton, O’Neill had said he was prepared in that instance to give the club “the benefit of the doubt.” Now, with Coleman fully fit again and McCarthy having also joined up with the Irish squad, the manager seems to have no qualms about the situation this time.

“James wants to play if he’s fit and that’s very encouraging,” he said. “He always did want to come and it’s great to see him here because he’s an important part of the team.”

In other injury news, Kevin Doyle withdrew last night with a groin injury. Stephen Ward didn’t train yesterday because of a sore ankle while O’Neill also sought to play down concerns about Robbie Keane who, despite playing a starring role for LA Galaxy in their 5-0 trouncing of Real Salt Lake on Sunday, was reported after the game as saying that he had been suffering with a sore back and tight hamstring before kick-off.

“But he is a year or two older than he was before,” observed O’Neill with a smile, noting that the reason Keane did only light training yesterday was because he’d played on Sunday.

Meanwhile, O’Neill made light of a question about whether Roy Keane had yet responded to the manager’s suggestion that it would be a good thing if his assistant made up with Alex Ferguson.

Smiling, O’Neill clarified: “I don’t know whether I prefaced it with it was none of my business or ended it by saying it was none of my business — but it was none of my business. ”

And then added, almost under his breath: “You know, hell might freeze over at some stage.”


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