Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Bryan Keane/INPHO Sean Maguire will be hoping for his first Ireland call-up tomorrow.
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Timing perfect for Sean Maguire as O'Neill prepares to name squad for World Cup qualifiers
Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle made their international debuts after joining Preston — Sean Maguire will be hoping for a similar fate ahead of Monday’s squad announcement.

TOMORROW AFTERNOON SEES Martin O’Neill name his preliminary squad for Ireland’s crucial upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Serbia in just under three weeks’ time.

Following a summer of sport away from the international scene and the return of the Premier League, the pair of games almost crept up unannounced.

However with just four qualifying games remaining over the next two months, the nation’s hopes of making a first World Cup appearance in 12 years returns to the limelight.

Ireland will be disappointed not to have taken all three points against Austria during June’s meeting in Dublin.

Alongside another draw with Wales earlier in the year it means their lead at the top of Group D has been eroded, with an inability to topple the group’s top sides at home a worrying trend ahead the upcoming meeting with Serbia on 5 September.

Still joint top of the group, the state of play sees Martin O’Neill’s side now trail Serbia on goal difference to the automatic qualification spot, while Wales and Austria safely lag four points behind in third and fourth.

When Ireland met Georgia in October 2016 a brilliant Seamus Coleman finish began a run of three straight wins — followed by a 3-1 deconstruction of Moldova and the infamous James McClean-inspired scalp away to Austria.

Ahead of the return meeting on 2 September at Landsdowne Road, Ireland will be without its enigmatic skipper against the Georgians. Coleman returned to light training sessions for Everton this week but remains ruled out of Ireland’s remaining four qualifiers.

Four points will be targeted by O’Neill, but two wins including a victory over Group D leaders Serbia would put Ireland’s destiny back in its own hands.

Shane Long dejected Ryan Byrne / INPHO Shane Long suffered a broken metatarsal in May but may be included after he was named on the bench for Southampton at the weekend. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

A lack of stellar striking options has been a common recurrence following the retirement of Robbie Keane. Shane Long was crucial as Ireland rode to Euro 2016 but scored just three Premier League goals last season.

This point was raised ahead of the Austria game, but once again Jonathan Walters proved his relentless form in the green jersey with a superb equaliser. Now though, O’Neill’s options remain largely as they were with Walters, Daryl Murphy, Kevin Doyle, David McGoldrick and Adam Rooney the obvious choices.

Walters has proved immensely successful when deployed wide right in midfield for O’Neill, with Long playing in front of a five man midfield. Tomorrow’s selection will see most of the above forwards named, but the question still hangs in the balance about the prospect of Sean Maguire earning his first ever call-up.

O’Neill made it plain and clear that the former Cork City striker’s lack of experience was the reason he was not chosen in his squad to face Austria and Uruguay in June. This before selecting Kevin Long in his starting eleven for the qualifer, who had yet to play a single minute in a green jersey.

Long proved his worth with an outstanding display and one can see O’Neill’s desire to protect Maguire — choosing the striker in such a crucial qualifier would have mounted far too much pressure and even picking him in his squad would have raised the need to bring him on.

So what has changed between now and June’s decision not to pick Maguire? Well, Ireland’s striking options have if nothing else regressed with the injury to Long, and even with the lack of game time that pre-season brings for most of Ireland’s striking options, not much has changed.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Richard Sellers Aidan McGeady scored and assisted during Sunderland's 3-1 win over Norwich on Sunday. Richard Sellers

Between Ireland’s 1-1 draw with Austria and Monday’s squad announcement Maguire has scored seven goals, played four Europa League games and earned himself a move to Preston North End where the player scored 20 minutes into his pre-season debut.

With few other options at his disposal and reasons not to pick him running out, O’Neill may have no choice but to give Maguire his long awaited call-up. It is well earned, long overdue and perhaps perfectly timed with a poor Georgian defence at his mercy.

O’Neill has shown a great deal of good management to protect Maguire from pressure, however the player has shown time and time again a willingness and ability to withstand such obstacles throughout his career.

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With hat-tricks against champions Dundalk as well as Levadia Tallinn preceding a move to the Championship, it appears on the surface that Maguire’s time has come. Sadly however, it will come as no surprise if he is left out once again.

Elsewhere James McCarthy remains injured alongside captain Coleman, with Shane Long still to regain full fitness from a broken metatarsal, with the player named on the bench for Southampton at the weekend.

Both Ciaran Clark and Marc Wilson were ruled out of June’s meeting with Austria, with both now fully fit and available.

Reading’s Liam Kelly, 21, earned a first call-up in O’Neill’s preliminary 37-man squad back in June and scored during his side’s 1-1 draw with Fulham on Saturday.

Meanwhile Ryan Manning played 10 minutes for QPR against Sheffield Wednesday, Darren Randolph kept a clean sheet as Middlesborough beat Sheffield United and Aidan McGeady also scored a brilliant strike from distance for Sunderland on Sunday.

Tomorrow’s squad announcement will bring few surprises, but Sean Maguire will be hoping his absence is not one of them.

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