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O'Neill rules out Delaney return in favour of blooding youth, invites U21 stars to train

The Ireland boss says there will be some “experimentation” in the friendlies against Switzerland and Slovakia.

O'Neill speaking at the FAI's National Training Centre today.
O'Neill speaking at the FAI's National Training Centre today.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

MARTIN O’NEILL WANTS an end to talk of an Ireland return for Damien Delaney after opting to leave the defender out of his latest provisional squad.

The Crystal Palace centre-half, 34, announced his international retirement last August but club boss Alan Pardew has recently suggested that the Corkman would be keen to be involved again.

Ireland manager O’Neill hadn’t closed the door on a comeback but excluded Delaney from the 40-man panel named this afternoon and explained that he would prefer to see 24-year-old Shane Duffy of Blackburn Rovers come through.

“I’ve got six centre-halves,” said O’Neill. “There are people here who have done brilliantly for me who helped qualify and a number of younger lads like Shane Duffy who I feel has international football ahead of him.

“I don’t know how much more you want me to say. Damien is 35 and Shane isn’t.”

Manchester City v Crystal Palace - Barclays Premier League - Etihad Stadium Delaney won't be returning. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

O’Neill has called up four uncapped players — Alan Judge, Matt Doherty, Chris Forrester and Jonny Hayes —  for the upcoming friendlies against Switzerland (25 March) and Slovakia (29 March).

And he spoke about using them as an opportunity to experiment with just one more fixture scheduled (against the Netherlands on 27 May) before the Euro 2016 finals.

“I said before I was looking at a bit of experimentation,” he said. “But naturally we want to win the games if it is at all possible.

“Some lads who I feel have have something to offer, not necessarily in the future but between now and June, I’d like to get them that international experience and playing time on the field and I think they should acquit themselves pretty well. That’s what I’m hoping for.

If I was a playing I’d be thinking ‘I have a chance to go here and play in one of these two games and I’ll be giving it absolutely everything’.”

Clearly with one eye on the future despite the fact that he has yet to sign a new contract with the FAI, the Derryman also plans to bring in a number of U21s regulars including Manchester City’s Jack Byrne and Preston North End midfielder Alan Browne to train.

“I was just going to add a couple of the U21 players as well too, the likes of young Byrne, young Browne is doing very well at Preston too,” he added.

“Obviously I have to narrow the squad down but and the U21s have an important game on Thursday night but I’d like some of the younger players to come and train with us for a few days just to be around the squad.

“The reports have been very good and all the people who have gone out to watch them have come back with glowing reports.”

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Queens Park Rangers v Preston North End - Loftus Road Preston's Alan Browne (left) is on O'Neill's radar. Source: Dominic Lipinski

19-year-old Dubliner Byrne has been gaining first-team experience in Holland with SC Cambuur and O’Neill believes he has a bright future in the game.

“He is doing very well. I’ve not seen him personally but I’ve got the DVDs of his performances and he is definitely one that you would feel in the future should come through.

“He’s got a lot of natural talent, which he has shown, and he has made the effort to go out and try and further his career by making himself a more experienced player. Well done to him for that.”

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