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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 23 February, 2019
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Martin O'Neill plays the waiting game as Long and O'Shea race to be fit for Bosnia

Rob Elliot’s absence “a wee bit strange,” says O’Neill as question marks hang over five of play-off squad.

O'Neill will give his injured stars every chance to prove their fitness.
O'Neill will give his injured stars every chance to prove their fitness.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

MARTIN O’NEILL’S INJURY headache showed no signs of easing as Ireland begin to prepare for their crunch Euro 2016 play-off.

There was a reduced squad for training in Abbotstown with five of the 30-man panel remaining with their clubs for further assessment ahead of Friday’s first leg against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

John O’Shea (hamstring) and Shane Long (ankle) remain the two most significant doubts, though O’Neill refused to make a prognosis on either player at this early stage.

With time running out before the trip to Zenica, Long met with a specialist today and received an injection for the injury he suffered in Poland last month.

“He hasn’t ruled himself out at this moment,” O’Neill said.

“Naturally he hasn’t done an awful lot of work since he came off against Poland.

“That might be one for the next couple of days. It would be great if he felt after the injection that his foot was fine and he’s ready to go.”

He added: “I genuinely couldn’t tell you (how likely he is to play) until I speak to him. I’ll speak to him at some stage or another this evening.

What we’ll have to do is let the injection settle down for about 48 hours and have a look after that.

Paul McShane, Alan Judge and Rob Elliot are the other question marks although O’Neill did describe Elliot’s absence, 48 hours after a man of the match performance for Newcastle, as “a wee bit strange.”

With goalkeepers Tim Krul and Karl Darlow both sidelined, Magpies boss Steve McClaren said that they would wrap Elliot ‘in cotton wool’ and hoped that he would not feature during the international break.

At a minimum, O’Neill feels that his own medical team should be allowed to assess Elliot themselves.

He said: “I’ve been a club manager myself although I find this one a wee bit strange when Rob actually played the game and was man of the match in the game.

“He’s being assessed by a specialist today and we’ll get an update on him either later on this evening or maybe tomorrow morning.

He did play very well in the game. If he was available for selection and played the full game, I think us at country level are entitled to assess him as well.

O’Shea is suspended for Friday but the prospect of him featuring at all took a hit over the weekend when Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce effectively ruled him out of the return leg in Dublin.

O’Neill, however, is determined to give his veteran defender every chance.

“We’ll monitor it day by day,” he said.

“He’s not feeling too bad but we’ll see. I think he thought that the Sunderland game at the weekend might have come a wee bit too early but there are a few extra days and we’ll see how he is.

I couldn’t (rule him out) yet until we see how it is. We’ve let him stay with the club to rehabilitate there and see how things are and then maybe we’ll get an update during the course of the week.

On Allardyce’s comments, he added: “Sam’s looking after his club and naturally if he’s fit and available for us on Monday night, it would be great.”

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Niall Kelly

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