James McCarthy winning fitness battle as D Day beckons in France

Some injury issues are still to be resolved as Martin O’Neill’s squad enjoy one last weekend pass off base before the Republic’s June 13 D-Day in France, but there was encouragement yesterday in the sight of James McCarthy training with the group for a second day in a row.

The Everton midfielder has suffered under the yoke of a succession of soft tissue issues in recent times and the thigh/groin injury he has been carrying lately has been a daily source of conversation since the squad met up in Dublin last Monday week.

That injury profile should guard against any ‘out-of-the-woods’ complacency when it comes to his fitness, however, and it was interesting to hear him explain that he had taken “just about a full part” in training yesterday having undertaken the entire load the day before.

Still, the vibe is favourable for now for a man who missed out on the 2012 European Championship due to family reasons and one who felt understandably anxious that another major finals might pass him by as he approaches the prime of his career.

He admitted: “I was worried. It seemed to not really go away for a week there and obviously I had a week before when I relaxed. I knew it was giving me a bit of pain. I came off for Everton in the last game of the season with it and I said to (caretaker manager) David Unsworth at the time that I was in pain so he took me off.

“I rested all week and tried to go for a run before we met up and I could feel it. I spoke to the doctor here and the manager and he rested me up. Since then I’ve just been resting, doing wee bits here and there, and I could still feel it. But, as I said, the last couple of days it’s started to clear up and hopefully that’s me back to getting fit and being involved with the team.”

Some news on Jonathan Walters’ progress is expected today, while Robbie Keane is still some way off returning to training, but McCarthy’s availability would be an a boost given how Ireland were overrun in midfield in Poland four years ago.

Martin O’Neill is unlikely to leave his Ireland side as numerically exposed in the centre of the park as Giovanni Trapattoni did with his 4-4-2 formation in 2012 and McCarthy’s presence can be another reason to approach Group E with more confidence.

He has over 30 caps now, but it was only during the home qualifier against Poland 13 months ago that he delivered the sort of imposing, classy performance that everyone felt he would one day be capable of when he emerged at Hamilton Academicals a decade ago. It’s a suggestion he’s heard before.

“Before then I’d been involved a lot, but it maybe takes you a bit of time to settle in (at international level) and there’s always people doubting you and having a go.

“A lot of people have said to me since Poland that I’ve kicked on and stuff.

“But I don’t look too much at any of that. I take it a game at a time, but I’m just delighted to be part of this squad. We’ve got a great bunch of lads here and hopefully, on a personal level, I can kick on again and give it my best shot.”

These Euros have the potential to be a defining chapter for McCarthy who, for all his talent, has yet to sample the delights of a Champions League stage.

Romelu Lukaku, his Belgian clubmate at Goodison, is another for whom that could be said.

“He’s a top player, he’s proved that in the Premier League.

“He’s scored some big goals for us this season and the last few seasons.

“We’ll obviously look out for Rom, but there’s a team full of talented players there with Belgium. You look at Sweden and they’ve got a lot of individuals. They’re a good side as well and then obviously Italy.”


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