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Martin O'Neill ponders forward role for James McClean

Updated: Tuesday, 29 Mar 2016 09:43 | Comments

Ireland's James McClean with Gelson Fernandes and Timm Klose of Switzerland
Ireland's James McClean with Gelson Fernandes and Timm Klose of Switzerland

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill is considering playing winger James McClean upfront against Slovakia on Tuesday after losing four strikers to injury over the last week.

Captain Robbie Keane (knee), Darryl Murphy (calf), Kevin Doyle (shin gash), Jonathan Walters (hamstring) will all miss out, leaving Shane Long as Ireland's only fit recognised striker, but O'Neill will not be bringing in late reinforcements.

"I'm not going to bring anybody in at this late notice," O'Neill told RTÉ Sport. 

"We can adjust things. James McClean has played up front before. I've seen  him play for Wigan there and he's done exceptionally well.

"It's been a bit of a disruption of course. Kevin Doyle started the game (against Switzerland) but I wanted him to play at least an hour or the whole game, depending on how fit he was.

"It was an opportunity for him and I felt he started the game quite well. He was obviously unfortunate to get injured.

"I was probably thinking Robbie Keane would be involved at some stage in one of the two games and I thought Jon Walters would be fit as well. But these things happen."

"If that does give Shay an opportunity to play regularly between now and the end of the season, of course it gives him a really good chance"

The Derry man hinted that Jonny Hayes and Eunan O'Kane, who both played the last half hour against Switzerland, could feature again tomorrow, alongside Wes Hoolahan, who played the final 20 minutes.

"Maybe (Jonny) Hayes and (Eunan) O'Kane again is a possibility. I'll have a real think about it now," he said. "I think Wes has a good chance of starting." 

"The players have been around now for the last seven or eight days, I'm sure that they would like to gain some time on the field. It might not be possible for everyone but at least they've felt involvement with the squad."

O'Neill said that the news that England goalkeeper Jack Butland would miss the rest of the season due to a fractured ankle opened the door for his Stoke team-mate and Ireland veteran Shay Given to stake a claim for a place in the Ireland squad.

Ireland will take three goalkeepers to France, with West Ham's Darren Randolph, who has started the last four games, in pole position and Newcastle's Rob Elliot expected to start against Slovakia. 

Millwall 'keeper David Forde, who started the first four games of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign before losing his place to Given, was the third netminder in this week's group.

"That's unfortunate with the young keeper at Stoke but if that does give Shay an opportunity to play regularly between now and the end of the season, of course it gives him a really good chance," said O'Neill.

"Jon Walters told us that he was just getting back to full training now. So, if this is a spur to him now, to feel as if he's got a chance, well done."

O'Neill added that the knee injury that has kept Keane out of both games this week wasn't a long-term concern at the moment and that he hadn't reflected on the prospect of bringing the 35-year-old to the Euros as part of the staff if he doesn't make the final squad.

"I haven't thought about it," he said. "I think Robbie would be thinking of making the 23, first and foremost.

"He's been very influential in the group and very supportive the whole time he's been here. Even when he hasn't started in matches, he's still with the team so that is a thought, I must admit.

"He was concerned about it (the injury). He thought it might have been a bit of a knock but when it's not going away immediately then you get a bit of concern.

"He feels at worst that he might get it scoped. In this day and age it doesn't take too long. I don't think he's got any real worries but obviously we'll know when he goes back there.

"I'm not concerned at the moment. Until I get the medical prognosis, we'll just have to wait and see."

The Ireland boss also confirmed that Ireland's second last friendly against the Netherlands, on 27 May at the Aviva would see him deploy something close to his starting team for Ireland's Euro 2016 opener against Sweden just over a fortnight later.

Ireland, whose training camp will be in Fota Island, Cork, will also play a final preparatory game in Turner's Cross against Belarus on 31 May, but the final squad should be announced following the Dutch clash.

"From afar that is the way I would be looking at it," said O'Neill. 

"It might change a bit, I'll have a better idea who has finished their season at whatever given time, but after the Dutch game I have to narrow it down to 23, so I think we would be looking pretty well close to what we'll have."

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