Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016 play-off: Republic forced to play waiting game on injured trio for Bosnia-Herzegovina game

Republic assistant claims some fit players are being kept away from internationals

By Damien Spellman

Roy Keane has questioned club managers ruling out injured players for up to a fortnight during international breaks.

Keane, number two to Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill, suggested it was "ironic" that players are often conveniently adjudged to be 10-14 days away from a return by their employers when they are due to meet up with their countries.

His comments came as he and O'Neill awaited news on five players, most notably Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot, Sunderland defender John O'Shea and Southampton striker Shane Long, ahead of Ireland's Euro 2016 play-off against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Keane had no qualms about the clubs' stances on the respective injuries, but admitted his surprise in general terms about the attitude of clubs to fitness problems.

The former Sunderland and Ipswich manager said: "You ask any of the players who worked under me, I never had a problem with players going away for internationals, never.

"I never ruled them out for 10-14 days every time there was an international match, I know that. If players were fit, they would go away. But if players aren't fit, you have got to respect the clubs. If the players aren't fit, then of course they stay at their clubs.

"But it's ironic that they all seem to get ruled out for 10-14 days."

Keane and O'Neill hope to have updates on Elliot, who turned in a fine individual display for the Magpies at Bournemouth on Saturday despite nursing a thigh problem, O'Shea, who has not played since October 25 because of a hamstring injury, and Long, who had an injection in the foot he damaged in Poland last month on Monday, over the next 48 hours.

However, the assistant manager admitted he had all but ruled out the trio some time ago because of the nature of their injuries.

Keane said: "If they become available in the next day or two, particularly for the second leg, it will be a fantastic bonus because with the injuries they had, they were sore ones.

"The boring answer is that's just all part of sport, part of football and whatever happens, the lads who start on Friday night will give it everything they've got, and that's all we can hope for."

Read more:

Euro finals fate in our hands says Republic boss Martin O'Neill 

Blow for Republic of Ireland fans as FAI receives just 600 tickets for Bosnia away match 

O'Shea and Jonathan Walters are suspended for Friday's first leg in Zenica and with Long also a doubt, Ipswich striker Daryl Murphy's return to goalscoring form with a hat-trick - his first goals of the season - for his club in Saturday's 5-2 win at Rotherham could hardly have been better-timed.

Murphy said: "It was about time. It was nice to get on the scoresheet and up and running for the season.

"It was a little bit of relief. I had been getting chances in games previously, it was just a case of taking one. I have been playing well in the last few weeks, so I knew that I would get chances. It was just a case of putting one away."

Meanwhile, having sampled the toxic atmosphere of the Tyne-Wear derby for Sunderland, Murphy is relishing what Zenica has to offer on Friday when he'll likely earn his first start in an away qualifier.

Admitting that a slender defeat which includes an away goal might not be a disaster given Bosnia Herzegovina are due in Dublin on Monday, Murphy sees no reason to be daunted by the reception the Republic will face.

"It's going to be tough over there, going into a hostile atmosphere of 12,000-seater stadium," said the 32-year-old.

"I actually feed off that having experienced it before. Playing for Sunderland against Newcastle was probably the worst derby of them all.

"Even getting off the bus going into the stadium, people were throwing things at us. Players were absolutely abused, got spat on and everything. It wasn't nice at all.

"Yet, I think it's good. It motivates you more. I'm all for that. Some players like it, and others don't, but you get on with it."

Getting on with things was the theme of Murphy's international career until O'Neill and his old boss, Keane, took over two years ago this month.

Hitting the top of the Championship scoring charts last season with 27 goals thrust him into the role of sole frontman against Scotland in June and, once again, when the world champions arrived in Dublin last month.

Neither of those appearances, like his other 15 caps, yielded a goal but now that the drought at club level has ended the mojo is back.

"I was chatting to my Dad, saying that I still haven't scored but should have with the chances I got," he said.

"And he was like, 'maybe you're waiting for a big game like this one, maybe it will be a goal that really matters.' That's the way I have to think really. If I get a chance, I've got to take it.

"It would be nice to score in the play-off. I don't want to look back not having done that for my country. I want to be able to say, 'yeah I've scored for my country and it was a big goal too.'

Keane believes that the Republic's win over Germany has demonstrated they can 'beat the best' and says that James McCarthy's emergence as a big player was central to the achievement.

"There have been one or two games lately when he has really stepped up to the plate," said Keane, "And he will have to do that on Friday. James is playing regularly and is playing better.

"I'm going back to his Wigan days and we always expected a bit more from him. We're all greedy and selfish as you could say that about a number of players.

"It's the natural process, the more games you play, getting to know the players a lot better and building up partnerships."

Belfast Telegraph