Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland prepare to take on Georgia this evening in Dublin with their Euro 2016 fate firmly in their own hands. However, the exclusion of Bournemouth’s Eunan O’Kane and Aberdeen’s Adam Rooney is confirmation of a lingering problem within the Irish football setup. Jack O’Toole discusses.
The absence of O’Kane and Rooney did little to affect Friday’s result in Faro as Ireland walked away comfortable winners against bottom placed Gibraltar, but the omission of the in-form duo points to the lack of competition for places within O’Neill’s side as the former Celtic boss seems to be satisfied with his current crop of midfielders and forwards.
O’Kane announced himself to Irish fans and the Premier League world three weeks ago when the former Everton youngster impressed in his Premier League debut against Liverpool in Bournemouth’s 1-0 loss at Anfield. O’Kane has been a regular in Bournemouth’s midfield since the defeat to Brendan Rodgers’ and the Euro 2016 qualifier against Gibraltar would’ve been the perfect opportunity for the Derry native to introduce himself to Irish fans amid injury concerns to Jeff Hendrick (ankle) and James McCarthy (knee).
While both McCarthy and Hendrick have cemented themselves as first-team regulars in the Irish team, both players were carrying respective knocks at the weekend and could’ve been given the night off in preparation for Ireland’s must win qualifier against Georgia tonight.
Meanwhile the omission of Aberdeen striker Adam Rooney is quite glaring given the fact that O’Neill seems to have no clear-cut number one striker. Despite two goals against Gibraltar, one a tap in and the other a penalty, Robbie Keane’s days as an automatic first-choice striker seem to be well and truly over while Southampton’s Shane Long has not been a consistent first team fixture for club nor country over the past few months.
O’Neill recalled former Reading striker Kevin Doyle for his strong performances for Colorado Rapids in the MLS, but Doyle had started just twice for O’Neill during his tenure as Irish boss prior to the Gibraltar game, with the Rapid striker’s last start coming against Oman over a year ago.
Ipswich striker Daryl Murphy, who failed to make O’Neill’s revised squad after being named in his initial 37 man squad three weeks ago, was preferred to Keane, Long and Doyle for Ireland’s 1-1 draw against Scotland back in June.
The absence of a clear-cut number one striker has left the door wide open for a player such as Aberdeen’s Adam Rooney, who has scored four times in six games for Aberdeen as the Dons have gotten off to their best start since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge at Pittodrie.
The victory over Gibraltar would’ve been an excellent opportunity for Rooney to make his Ireland debut but his omission effectively rules him out for the rest of the qualifiers as, all things considered, if he failed to get a spot in O’Neill’s matchday squad ahead of Gibraltar and Georgia, one would assume he’d find it very difficult for inclusion against Germany and Poland.
O’Kane and Rooney’s omissions are not likely to have a big impact on Ireland’s performance tonight, but it does signal that O’Neill is unwavering on his current crop despite the fact Ireland have twelve points to show from seven games.
O’Kane and Rooney were rewarded for their strong starts to the season with call ups to the Irish camp, and while the experience can only help them, it looks like both players might have to wait until next year before they are given an opportunity to show what they can do in green.