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O'Neill enthused by Arter and Judge but Damien Delaney's Euro hopes a long-shot

The Republic of Ireland manager’s loyalties are to the players who ensured qualification for this summer’s tournament.

Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

MARTIN O’NEILL hasn’t slammed the door shut on Damien Delaney finding his way back into the Republic of Ireland squad though it does appear the defender’s chances of making it to Euro 2016 are slim.

The 34-year-old centre-back has been in excellent form for Crystal Palace over the last eighteen months especially but last appeared for his country in a friendly against Turkey in May 2014.

Last August, he took to social media and expressed a reluctance to make himself available for Irish games due to ‘the rigours of Premier League football’ and because of certain issues he had with O’Neill, which he decided against making public.

In recent days though, his current manager Alan Pardew and team-mate Scott Dann have indicated Delaney would be interested in making himself available again, the lure of a major tournament too good to ignore.

O’Neill is remaining open-minded though it’s clear his loyalties are to the group of players who excelled during qualification.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Chelsea v Crystal Palace - Stamford Bridge Delaney has been in excellent form for Crystal Palace this season and last. Source: Nigel French/PA Wire/Press Association Images

“Damian made his position relatively clear at the time and so we’ve pushed on”, O’Neill said.

“It’s good to see him doing well with Crystal Palace but we’ve had a number of players that have played exceptionally well for us so we’ll see. Am I in a position to rule out people, particularly people who want to come and play No, not really.”

O’Neill is still a little puzzled by Delaney’s perspective on what pushed him to step away from the international scene in the summer of 2014.

“I think things seemed to get lost a wee bit in translation. Damian seems to have a take on what transpired a way back some time ago”, O’Neill said.

“He was in all the early squads and couldn’t make one or two. Then it was the Turkey game he played in just before we went out to America and Damian, for one reason or another, didn’t want to come out there. I think his reasoning was that he was getting on a little bit in age and that he didn’t just want to be traipsing around, just following the team almost as a supporter.

And I get a wee bit disappointed because I’m not in a position to put people in teams for any old reason. I think you have to work your way into it. I think he also said something about how he didn’t feel he was my type of player and that’s simply not true. That wasn’t the case at all.”

Two players that are certainly in O’Neill’s plans for the summer tournament are Bournemouth’s Harry Arter and Alan Judge of Brentford with the manager full of praise for both.

AFC Bournemouth v West Ham United - Barclays Premier League - Vitality Stadium Harry Arter has been in terrific form for Bournemouth and looks set to be given a chance by Martin O'Neill. Source: Adam Davy/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Arter had injury problems in the early part of the Premier League campaign but has been a regular for The Cherries since November, making sixteen top-flight appearances and scoring once.

“Harry came in and played exceptionally well against England (in last summer’s friendly) but unknown to me, he was playing with a bit of an injury that subsequently prevented him from playing against Scotland”, O’Neill said.

“He spent all of pre-season trying to get fit and found out he had a few more problems that stemmed from all of this and then he ended up missing the start of the season.

He’s a fine little player, wants to get on the ball, wants to do things with it and he will most certainly be one of those players that I would like to get a game for – either (March friendly opponents) Switzerland or Slovakia, or I will possibly even start him in both.”

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Brentford v Queens Park Rangers - Griffin Park Alan Judge in action for Brentford against Queens Park Rangers earlier this season. Source: John Walton/EMPICS Sport

Judge, meanwhile, has sparkled in the Championship, scoring thirteen times and O’Neill is well aware of his talents.

“I’ve seen a great deal of young Judge. He’s nearly on my doorstep at Brentford, not that far away (from me). He’s got great enthusiasm, wants to be in the squad, his attitude is just absolutely A1 and he’s another one that I’d want to give a chance to in some of these matches coming up.

They’re definitely two players that will be in the reckoning.”

With just over three months to go until Ireland’s first Group E clash against Sweden, O’Neill confirmed his mind is not made up regarding his 23-man Euro squad and that places are still up for grabs.

I think we would all know there are some players, injuries aside, who would be absolutely certain to go to the Euros. But there are a number of places that are questionable. But we have to wait. Big injuries to important players can still play a part and there are still one or two players who can still play their way into the squad. It’s hard for me to give you numbers but overall, there are places to play for – that’s an absolute certainty.”

And, with a nod to those players on the fringes, O’Neill revealed that the biggest factor in picking his Euro squad is current form.

“The most important thing is to look at players’ form and see how their playing and what they did, say, six or seven months ago. Are they capable of reproducing that? Has their form dipped at club level? Do they need a confidence boost?

Maybe there’s someone who doesn’t have the experience at international level but is absolutely tearing it up at club level. It may not be the Premier League – it might be the Championship but it just can’t be ignored. And closer to June, those are the things that become very important.”

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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