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Will O'Neill embrace the chance to freshen the squad and other Ireland talking points

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill names his squad for next month’s World Cup double-header, later today.

O'Neill's side will be looking to secure six points from their next two games.
O'Neill's side will be looking to secure six points from their next two games.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IRELAND ENTER NEXT month’s qualifiers facing the group’s lowest ranked teams – Georgia at home on Thursday 6 October, then Moldova away three days later on Sunday 9 October, with manager Martin O’Neill naming his squad for those two games later today.

Below are some questions ahead of the squad announcement as the Boys in Green aim to spark their World Cup qualification bid into life with maximum points, following a respectable draw in Serbia.

1. Will O’Neill finally call-up some of the Championship’s most in-form players?

There was a palatable sense of deflation from many, after O’Neill named his first post-Euro 2016 squad last month.

No new caps, little in the way of fresh faces and largely sticking with the tried and tested players from his two years in charge, ensured a less than enthusiastic reception to Ireland’s last 28-man squad.

Several Irish players though have hit the ground running in the Championship this season, including defenders Matt Doherty and John Egan, while Barnsley’s Conor Hourihane was named the division’s Player of the Month for August. And they all deserve their chance to impress next month.

On top of that, Irish-qualified striker Scott Hogan is in the form of his career, after scoring 13 goals in his last 15 league appearances for Brentford, but as of yet, he has not committed to the country of his grandparents.

However, it must be noted that Hogan has stated he would like the international break to help his recovery from a serious knee injury that he suffered last season, so his absence could be excused.

But all of the named players above, especially the first three, will have grounds for complaint if they are purposely omitted.

Should players such as Alex Pearce and Paul McShane be included ahead of Egan, or Aiden McGeady ahead of Hourihane, then questions over what exactly the criteria is to be called-up to the national team must be explained.

Source: Barnsley FC/YouTube

2. Would it be fair to include some of Dundalk’s star players ahead of a hectic schedule?

The back-to-back League of Ireland champions have continued to excel and surprise on their European adventures this season.

A draw against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League group stages however, cemented the thoughts of many Irish football fans, that this team is one of the most talented group of players to come from the league.

The Lilywhites though have a Premier Division fixture against Sligo Rovers scheduled for Friday 7 October, a day after Ireland take on Gerogia at home and two days before the Boys in Green face Moldova.

That match is one of seven the Louth-based club face in the next five weeks.

The inclusion of any player from Stephen Kenny’s side would be on merit, with Shane Long the only current regular squad member to be involved in European football this season, but it could hinder Dundalk’s prospects for the rest of the year.

Although the likes of Andy Boyle, Stephen O’Donnell and Daryl Horgan would relish the chance to showcase their talents on the international stage, it may well be in their best interests to wait another month, so they can maximise their potential for both club and country.


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Andy Boyle Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

3. Will O’Neill’s contract situation be clarified?

Anybody that has viewed any of O’Neill’s press conferences will be aware that he tends to bat away any questions that he doesn’t want to address, with a touch of his deadpan humour.

When he was asked earlier in the month if his contract negotiations have progressed any further, the 64-year-old replied in typical fashion:

“We’re there. It’s about to be signed… In the next year and a half,” O’Neill joked.

But it’s about time he answered the question.

Whether it is financial arrangements, personal terms or clauses within the contract that need to be finalised – uncertainty can never be good for any set of players or management team.

Could you imagine a permanent manager in the Premier League operating in this situation? Hardly.

Although some may argue Mike Phelan has taken charge of Hull on a game-by-game basis, he has never been their full-time manager.

If this situation was ongoing with a League of Ireland club, you’d get the usual sniggers and snide remarks that circulate around any domestic controversies.

“The contracts are there to be signed at this stage, it’s only a matter of Martin and myself meeting up to sign them together,” the FAI’s chief executive John Delaney said in July.

But still no developments two months later.

Ireland enter these games without O’Neill signing on the dotted line, and as we’ve seen when he left Aston Villa six days before their season opener in 2010, the Derryman will be willing to leave a job in controversial circumstances if he feels it is justified – with or without a contract.

If you’re not alarmed by the former Celtic manager not committing to the job, just remember the previous man the FAI appointed to manage the team on the interim basis, the last time they scouted for a new permanent manager.

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and FAI CEO John Delaney Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

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