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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

John Egan's absence and more talking points from the latest Ireland squad

The Brentford star has been impressing with his performances in the Championship this season.

Updated at 09.08

1. Will Dundalk duo be part of final squad?

Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan Dundalk duo Andy Boyle (left) and Daryl Horgan (right) have been called into the provisional Ireland squad to face Austria. Source: Mikhail Kireev/INPHO

THE PROVISIONAL 35-MAN Ireland squad named by Martin O’Neill yesterday is likely to be cut significantly ahead of the game with Austria in the Ernst-Happel-Stadion on 12 November.

Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan were included in the panel, with Martin O’Neill rewarding the duo for helping Dundalk win the league and impress in Europe this season.

Nevertheless, whether the pair make the final squad is another matter. As uncapped players, O’Neill will find them easier to offload than some of the more established members of the group.

The Derry native has a reputation for being a conservative coach, and so, may be more likely to cast off Boyle than a player who has been around the squad for years, such as Paul McShane.

Moreover, their inclusion in the travelling party to face Austria could also depend on the fitness of others — Horgan, for instance, would have a much greater chance of retaining his spot if Aiden McGeady fails to sufficiently recover from the hamstring injury that has kept him out of action for the past month, after some encouraging early-season displays for loan club Preston.

When asked yesterday about whether the League of Ireland duo had a good chance of making it to Vienna, O’Neill’s response was non-committal, although he did emphasise that Horgan and Boyle were in the provisional party on merit.

“You look at the game and you’re always trying to decide whether players can step up,” O’Neill added. “But I’m not running a kindergarden. You’re looking for as many ready-made players (as possible). Other clubs are supposed to (get them to a certain level).

“They look at these (League of Ireland) players. They haven’t taken them on. And you look at some of the players — they took young (Richie) Towell on — he scored a lot of goals last season, but he doesn’t play for Brighton. Those things have been semi-setbacks.

“I know (Towell’s) injured at this minute, but it’s taken him a long time. Hopefully he can drive on and get through that initial period (where it’s) something new to him, a bit strange, and become the player we think he can be.

“Sometimes, you have to take a wee bit of time to adjust — international football doesn’t really give you the time to do that.”

2. Encouragement for John Egan despite absence

Brentford v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship - Griffin Park John Egan has impressed for Brentford of late. Source: Steven Paston

If someone said before yesterday that an accomplished Irish centre-back in his mid-20s who has been in impressive form of late would make the squad, some might have assumed the reference was to John Egan rather than Andy Boyle.

Having made the League One Team of the Season last year, Egan has adapted seamlessly to life in the Championship, featuring in all 15 of 10th-place Brentford’s matches so far, after signing for the Bees last July.

Along with the notable likes of Jeff Hendrick, Matt Doherty and Samir Carruthers, Egan was also part of the acclaimed Irish U19 side that reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2011.

Moreover, although he has yet to reward him with a senior call-up, Martin O’Neill knows the player better than most. Their careers at Sunderland coincided and the manager had high praise for Egan during his stint at the Stadium of Light.

“If heart and desire are anything to go on, John will cakewalk his career,” O’Neill said at the time. “I gave him a squad number in the first-team at the start of last season, almost as much for attitude as anything else. He’s got a fantastic attitude to do really well.”

When Egan had to undergo surgery following a double leg break, O’Neill took the time to visit him in hospital. And one of the coach’s last acts before his Sunderland departure was to award the player, who is the son of the late Kerry GAA legend John Egan Senior, with a new contract.

While Egan did not make yesterday’s squad despite some calls for his inclusion, O’Neill did namecheck the Cork native as someone currently in his thoughts.

“I’ve seen a lot of young John Egan play and he’s biding his time and doing really well at this minute,” the Ireland boss said.

As for Boyle, O’Neill was similarly enthusiastic in his praise.

“At this minute, first of all you see with your own eyes and second, you hear lots of reports about the lad — his dressing room influence, which is great.

“But the way Dundalk have come through, you get the impression that they’ve got strong characters in the dressing room. That’s from a distance. That’s not something I was asking Stephen (Kenny) about. But he’s doing very well, so we’ll have a look.

“There are a number of centre-backs (in the Ireland squad), but there’s a doubt about John (O’Shea) obviously, and I wanted to include (Boyle) in the squad.”

3. Injury worries highlight Ireland’s squad depth issues

Republic of Ireland v Georgia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D - Aviva Stadium Stephen Ward is an injury doubt for the Austria game. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

One of the more interesting stats from the latest Ireland squad was that it included more goalkeepers than strikers.

With Robbie Keane retired, Shane Long and Daryl Murphy ruled out, and Scott Hogan still yet to make any definitive statements about his international future, Ireland are starting to look seriously short in the age department.

One of the concerns is the age profile of the forwards named — Jon Walters (33), Kevin Doyle (33), Adam Rooney (28) and David McGoldrick (28). Doyle and Walters have clearly seen better days, while McGoldrick has four caps and Rooney has none, despite both now being at what is generally considered the peak period for a footballer.

In Long’s absence, Walters is most likely to lead the line, with the Stoke player earning deserved praise from O’Neill after filling in for the injured Southampton star against Moldova last month.

Stephen Ward, James McCarthy and John O’Shea are also injury doubts for the Austria game, and while there are obvious replacements at centre-back and midfield, the identity of Ward’s back-up is less clear.

Many critics remain unconvinced that putting Robbie Brady in defence is the best use of his talents, but there are no other obvious alternatives to Ward in the 35-man panel.

Greg Cunningham, who has been included by O’Neill in previous squads, and Dundalk’s Dane Massey have been touted for the problematic position, but neither made the cut yesterday.

“I know all the players you’re talking about,” O’Neill said, when asked about the left-back slot yesterday. “If Brady comes through, he’s a possibility of playing there. He can see the whole game in front of him or he can play midfield for us. I’ll have a look at it and we’ll see at the weekend.

“If it means we have to call someone else in, a number of players you talked about, I’ve seen them. This step up, we all mentioned a lot of players here, and I’m not talking about the Dundalk players (specifically), I’m talking about players not in the squad (in general). I see a lot of these games and some players mentioned at different stages I don’t think, at this minute, would improve our team or would get into the team.”

4. Everton and Ireland still at loggerheads

Everton v West Ham United - Premier League - Goodison Park Martin O'Neill has criticised recent comments made by Everton manager Ronald Koeman. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Back-and-forth disputes with Everton have seemingly been a recurring theme with Ireland coaches for years now.

Even Toffees chairman Bill Kenwright has weighed in, criticising comments made by assistant boss Roy Keane back in 2014, while the latest saga revolves around James McCarthy’s fitness, and manager Ronald Koeman accusing Ireland of “killing” his player, after he featured in two World Cup qualifiers over a short space of time.

O’Neill once again re-opened the war of words with Koeman yesterday, accusing the manager of hypocrisy after McCarthy played for Everton just days after featuring in Moldova.

The fact that Roberto Martinez also took exception in similar situations suggests it is the club as a whole, rather just one individual, that are unhappy with the Irish management’s treatment of Toffees players.

O’Neill said yesterday that he had not talked to Koeman, but perhaps the time for a private conversation is now approaching, given that debating such issues through the media is unlikely to solve the ongoing conflict anytime soon.

5. Scott Hogan deserves time

Brentford v Nottingham Forest - Sky Bet Championship - Griffin Park Brentford's Scott Hogan celebrates scoring. Source: Adam Davy

There have been some inevitable parallels drawn between Jack Grealish and Scott Hogan, and their respective situations with Ireland.

There are some similarities of course, but to assume the situations are the same is wrong.

Like Grealish, Hogan was born in England and has expressed an interest in playing for Ireland only to leave Martin O’Neill waiting.

However, unlike Grealish, Hogan has had to endure a nightmare 18-month spell on the sidelines through injury.

The 24-year-old striker was linked with an Ireland call-up as far back as last season and expressed enthusiasm about the idea. Commenting just prior to the Euros, he said: “If Roy Keane rang me up, I couldn’t say no… He is one of my heroes.”

Yet it’s understandable that the player is cautious — it is only now that he is starting to get a run of games together, hitting eight goals in 16 matches for Championship side Brentford this season.

It seems logical that he would continue to manage his fitness carefully — going away on international duty could potentially disrupt the meticulous training regimes put in place to aid his recovery.

Brentford teammate and Ireland international Alan Judge has expressed optimism that Hogan will officially declare for Ireland in the near future, though O’Neill yesterday emphasised the importance of not “rushing” the in-form star into a decision.

Either way, with not too many obvious examples of young strikers coming through the ranks, Hogan would certainly be a welcome addition to the increasingly small pool of players that Ireland can draw from.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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