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'Young players not ready to step up at this critical stage' - O'Neill

The Ireland manager has also emphasised the importance of getting three points against Poland later this month.

O'Neill at today's press conference in Bank of Ireland. Grand Canal Square.
O'Neill at today's press conference in Bank of Ireland. Grand Canal Square.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated at 09.00

MARTIN O’NEILL IS well aware that what happens in two weeks’ time is likely to have a significant bearing on whether Ireland qualify for the Euro 2016 finals.

In the wake of the deflating loss to Scotland back in November, the Derry man told us that progression from Group D will largely come down to the results they pick up at the Aviva Stadium.

Now the Boys in Green are facing into a run of four competitive matches in Dublin, broken up only by a trip to the Algarve to face minnows Gibraltar in September.

First in line are the group leaders on Sunday, 29 March. Victory puts Ireland right back in the mix — level on top with ten points — but a loss could potentially see their three main rivals break away as Germany and Scotland are expected to win their respective games against Georgia and Gibraltar on the same night.

“A win is very important,” O’Neill said at yesterday’s squad announcement. “We’ve got four out of the next five at home and I’ve said all along, you’ve got to do it at home. We’ve got this opportunity starting at the end of the month.

“Poland are very strong and they have got off to a great start. Confidence is really high with them now after they had a big victory at home against Germany, which was great. They look up to the task. It will be a tough game for us but it is a game that we are capable of winning.”

Harry Arter was the only new face in an extended 35-man squad named on Thursday afternoon, with O’Neill rewarding the midfielder for an excellent season as part of the Bournemouth team that sits top of the Championship. Although quick to explain that he has been monitoring the progress of several youngsters, the Ireland boss doesn’t believe now is the right time to introduce any.

“I’ve seen quite a number of young players but at this minute I don’t think they are ready to step up and play senior football at such a critical stage,” he said.

“That’s my assessment. It doesn’t mean that I can’t keep an eye on them or that they can’t improve. Some of these players I’m thinking about are only 21-22. So that’s encouraging for the long term.”

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Watford v Bournemouth - Vicarage Road New man Harry Arter. Source: Andrew Matthews

Dubliner Adam Rooney is top of the goalscoring charts in the Scottish Premiership at present with 23 goals in all competitions and assistant Roy Keane was at Celtic Park to watch the Aberdeen striker in their recent 4-0 defeat to the Hoops.

“Roy went up to see him for the game against Celtic and thought he didn’t do too badly without getting a great deal of service,” O’Neill explained. “

“I’ll be keeping an eye on it and he is one that I will certainly try and see myself over the next couple of months.

Did I think immediately ready for this particular game? I was maybe slightly concerned about that but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on him. It’s good to see him scoring.”

On the injury front, Shane Long (broken ribs), Aiden McGeady (knee) and Robbie Brady (calf) were all named despite being sidelined in recent weeks and O’Neill is hopeful the trio will be available.

“Shane is back again,” he said. “Aiden was making good progress a couple of weeks ago. He has been doing a lot of running but was having a bit of a problem when kicking the ball. He thinks he is still going to be okay.

“Robbie is desperate to play and has not ruled himself out. I’ll give him every opportunity to get back in. He had the tear in the calf and he is responding to treatment at the moment and he is not doing too badly. It would be nice to have him fit and available.”

Originally published at 18.50 on 12 March.

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Ben Blake

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