Long and McClean provide positives for O’Neill
There was some good news over the weekend for Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill ahead of today’s squad announcement at the Aviva Stadium with Shane Long getting his first start of the season for Southampton and James McClean scoring his first goal for Stoke City against Hull.
As ever, though, there were disappointments too with Declan Rice an unused substitute for West Ham as the Londoners lost 1-0 to Arsenal on Saturday and Robbie Brady missed out on the matchday squad for Burnley’s game at Fulham.
O’Neil has suggested the Dubliner is unlikely to feature in either the Nations League game in Cardiff on September 6th or the friendly, five days later, in Poland. But he resumed training last week and could get game time with the under-23 side over the coming days so the manager may well hedge his bets for the moment by naming him in what will likely be extended preliminary squad.
Jeff Hendrick, who scored for Burnley in their 4-2 defeat by Fulham, Matt Doherty, who performed well in Wolves’ 1-1 draw with Manchester City and Conor Hourihane, who came on for the second half of Aston Villa’s game against Reading, all look certain to be included while Enda Stevens did his chances no harm by contributing an assist as Sheffield United beat Bolton 3-0.
O’Neill acknowledged last week a significant number of the players he names in the squad for the games next month may be slightly on the margins at their clubs but he will still be frustrated to see Rice, who had been doing so well, apparently fall out of favour for now at West Ham. Assuming the 19-year-old doesn’t have a dramatic late change of heart, however, he is likely to get his first competitive cap in Cardiff, something that will put to bed the ongoing issue of his dual international eligibility.
A decent display by McClean will have been as welcome for the Ireland manager as it was for the player’s club boss Gary Rowett, who seemed relieved to have seen something approaching the best of a player who has made a slow start to life at Stoke since his summer move. “He’s an easy player to sometimes criticise,” said Rowett, who had been coming in for some himself after his side’s early Championship defeats, “and I know in his first few games he’s not performed as he would have liked, but one thing you cannot criticise James McClean for is his commitment . . . sums us up. About 75 minutes into the game, they’re down to 10 men, we’re 2-0 up and he sprints back 60 yards to atone for one of his team-mates’ errors and makes a last-ditch tackle.
“We haven’t got enough of those players in the building. They’re the type of people we want because hard work will always get rewarded.”