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James McCarthy still a big concern as D-Day looms for Martin O'Neill

By Daniel McDonnell

The Republic of Ireland team will kick off their week in Cork today with the fitness of James McCarthy providing Martin O'Neill with as much stress as the process of whittling down his squad to 23 bodies.

McCarthy is due to participate in training at Turner's Cross today and, while O'Neill's bottom-line conclusion is that he thinks the Everton midfielder should be fine for the tournament, the Republic boss has all but ruled him out of tomorrow's game with Belarus and confessed that he is less confident than he was this time last week.

With the centre of midfield the main area troubling Ulsterman O'Neill in terms of his selection process, a question mark over a key element of his team is an unwelcome variable.

"We're going to have another look at some things and see how he is again on Monday," said the 64-year-old, as he reflected on Friday's 1-1 draw with Holland at the Aviva Stadium. "I said before that I didn't think it was a big concern.

"I can say no more at this minute, but I think he should be okay. I thought that with plenty of confidence during the middle of the week, from the news I was getting, that everything would be okay, and I would be only slightly less confident now.

"He's doing some stuff at this minute with the medical team and the scans have been clear, both the one at Everton and the one we've done.

"So, while that's reassuring, it doesn't necessarily mean everything's right. James is one of those lads who genuinely likes to be training, not missing a few days, and then you start to get a wee bit worried."

After his initial thoughts appeared to contain a trace of doubt, O'Neill was again asked directly if he would name McCarthy in his squad tomorrow night if uncertainty lingered. He indicated that the player might be offered an input.

"I'll be guided by him and Alan (Dr Alan Byrne) on that one," he responded, "Remember, the games in France come thick and fast. But I sometimes think that you can't be thinking that every single player will be alright for every one of the games.

"In an ideal world, it would be great. But James has earned the right to be one of those to have consideration at least to the very last moment. And he's worth waiting on as well."

O'Neill has confirmed that Daryl Murphy, Robbie Keane and Aiden McGeady will all get the nod from the outset tomorrow.

The speed with which he has to make his final call - effectively in the minutes after the full-time whistle against Belarus - means that the players left out are in a situation where they will be secretly hoping that rivals in their position don't set the world alight.

"I'm pretty well close on things," said O'Neill. "Ideally, it would be fine, if that was the case, if we had a wee bit of time to think about it.

"(David) Meyler may or may not get on the field of play but he's been great for us, a big boost, he's very popular and all of those things and threw everything into the game in Germany and the point that helped us there."

Stephen Quinn was also part of that draw in Gelsenkirchen and, like Meyler, is under threat because of the emergence of Harry Arter.

O'Neill will have to decide if there really is any room for sentiment.

Belfast Telegraph