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McGeady looking fitter, Brady and Duffy will be big losses and O'Neill open to paying Sheridan a visit

The Ireland boss is confident they can manage without a couple of key players against Wales next week.

McGeady has been in fine form.
McGeady has been in fine form.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

FOUR MONTHS ON from Ireland’s last fixture, Martin O’Neill was back in Dublin this afternoon as he plots to take down Wales.

A famous 1-0 win away Austria back in November has left the Boys in Green in the unfamiliar position of Group C leaders heading towards the halfway point of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales — four points back in third after one win and three draws — come to town next week for the first competitive fixture of the calendar year on 24 March before Ireland play Iceland in a friendly four days later.

Brighton defender Shane Duffy was a notable absentee from the 39-man provisional squad named today as the Derryman is unavailable after breaking his metatarsal. And while Robbie Brady has been included, a one-match suspension rules him out.

“He’ll be a big loss to us,” O’Neill said of Burnley’s record signing. “When you think about the second booking he picked up, it wasn’t fantastic but we’ve played loads of games without big players in the last couple of years.

“This will be the same. We’ll miss him and Duffy but you curse your luck for about five minutes then get on with it. Whatever we have, hopefully others will slot in and we’ll be able to compete against Wales.

That’s always been the case. If you look at the last qualification phase and the Euros, we missed big players at different stages. But others have risen to the occasion and we’ve got the points on the board after a real collective effort.”

One positive note of late has been Aiden McGeady’s form. The winger, undoubtedly talented but frustratingly inconsistent all-too-often, has rediscovered his sharpness at Preston North End this season and picked up Championship Player of the Month just last week.

“I think he gets a pretty free role at Preston and that is good for him,” added O’Neill. “He’s a confidence player and he looks a bit fitter too. That comes from the games he will have played so that is encouraging.

“It’s better to be playing for a cause every single week, which he has been doing at Preston, than playing U21 football for Everton.”

McGeady’s North End team-mates Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle retain their places on the panel and both will be hoping to make senior debuts at some stage during the upcoming international break.

“Overall, they’re doing fine and just settling in,” he said of the former Dundalk pair. “Andy has been in the side for the last couple of games and it’s been great for them on the back of the exploits from Dundalk and getting into our squad. I’m really pleased for them and it’s good news.”

Martin O'Neill O'Neill speaking at 3 Mobile's HQ today. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

While O’Neill is hopeful that a knock to Ciaran Clark’s knee over the weekend isn’t serious enough to keep him out, there was a welcome return for his Magpies team-mate Rob Elliot after nearly a year away due to knee ligament damage.

The Ireland boss also faces another potential run-in with Everton manager Ronald Koeman over James McCarthy.

The Toffees midfielder has been called up despite Koeman saying that he will need a week or two on the sidelines to recover from a hamstring problem.

If he (Koeman) is disappointed he has another injury, I don’t think we can be blamed for that — although you never know,” said O’Neill.

“I spoke to James the other day and he’s feeling not too bad at all. I’ll keep in touch with him this week and he is hoping he will be in full training by the end of the week. We’ll assess it after that.”

Cork-born Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane has been rewarded with a spot on the list too.

O’Neill again: “He’s been in the squad before but hasn’t got down to the final group. I’ve spoken to him about some things that, in my viewpoint, I’d like him to be able to do. Overall, at club level is where he’s going to find his improvements.

“He has got his move from Barnsley to Villa and that should give him a real boost of confidence. It’s not the reason he is in there and he would have been if he was still at Barnsley. Between myself and Roy, we’ve seen him about three times this season — some good and some not so good.

“I could run through a list of players who are exactly the same. When he settles down there, we’ll probably see the best of him this time next year.”

Former Celtic striker Cillian Sheridan has extended his career on the continent  in recent weeks after leaving Omonio Nicosia in Cyprus for Polish title contenders Jagiellonia Białystok.

It’s seven years since Sheridan won the last of his three senior caps, but he is hoping the move could improve his chances of a return to the international set-up and O’Neill says he’s open to the idea of watching the 28-year-old play in the flesh.

“If the FAI allow me to head out there I’ll do it. I don’t see that being a major problem. And (getting back involved with Ireland) that was his reasoning for doing it? That’s very encouraging if that’s the case. I’ll try get myself across to see him.”

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Ben Blake

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