Belfast Telegraph

Martin O'Neill has options aplenty for Euro 2016 as Republic of Ireland stars are kept guessing

By Daniel McDonnell

With a typical dose of humour, Martin O'Neill suggests a different approach if he has to let down some physically imposing members in his list of Euro 2016 hopefuls.

"If there's one or two that's bigger than me, I'll write to them," the Republic of Ireland boss said.

The reality is that he is planning for a situation that will require a much more direct approach. O'Neill appears to have now completely abandoned any plans to formalise his final 23 on Saturday and his preference is to confirm his squad after Tuesday's Cork friendly with Belarus - just ahead of the Uefa deadline.

He will let 90 per cent of his squad know the situation over the weekend without making it public but there are players who will not be included in tomorrow's Holland game that he wants to trial against Belarus before reaching a final decision.

O'Neill had originally planned to do the deed on Saturday so he could travel to Fota Island with the 23 members of his French party. But the 64-year-old Ulsterman has now looked at his numbers, particularly in the central midfield department, and reasoned that such a strategy would require making decisions without even giving players a chance to figure in the Dutch encounter.

"If a lot of the players had played the amount of football I'd have liked then I might have made my mind up early," said O'Neill. "I'm not here to play mind games with them. Some haven't played very much so there are games on Friday night and Tuesday night to stake a claim."

As it stands, O'Neill has 29 players in contention. One goalkeeper will be cut. He has eight defenders present that could all travel. It's further up the park where he faces genuine difficulty.

David Meyler, Keiren Westwood, David Forde and Kevin Doyle are absent for the Holland showdown due to club commitments. James McCarthy and Ciaran Clark are unlikely to be risked with minor injuries.

McCarthy may not feature against Belarus either with O'Neill taking a cautious route with an important player. Glenn Whelan, Stephen Quinn, Jeff Hendrick, Harry Arter, Eunan O'Kane and Darron Gibson are all pushing for time on the park.

Throw the more advanced Wes Hoolahan and the versatile Robbie Brady into the picture and you can see why O'Neill is taking his time. He did drop a hint that one option is to sacrifice a striker so if four attackers are picked then David McGoldrick and Kevin Doyle will have work to do with Shane Long, Jon Walters, Robbie Keane and Daryl Murphy to the front of the queue.

"Midfield is a pretty important position to us," said O'Neill, "By Tuesday, I think I will have told quite a number of players that they will be going."

Reading midfielder Quinn has admitted that he is on the cut line. His club colleague Paul McShane is already out, with O'Neill meeting him face to face to explain his decision, which impressed Quinn. He is unsure what the manager is thinking.

"Can you read him?" he said. "I can't read him. I just do my job and hopefully that's enough."

Belfast Telegraph