Belfast Telegraph

Staunton short at back after Finnan pull-out

Euro 2008 Qualifier

By Mark Staniforth

Republic of Ireland boss Steve Staunton faces a defensive headache following Steve Finnan's withdrawal from the squad for Saturday's crucial Euro 2008 qualifier in Slovakia with a knee injury.

Finnan's absence leaves Staunton without his two first-choice full-backs for the game, with Newcastle's Stephen Carr having previously been ruled out with a hamstring injury.

The Liverpool full-back had remained in England for treatment in the hope of recovering in time for the trip.

However Staunton remains hopeful Finnan will return for Wednesday's game in the Czech Republic.

Staunton said: "He will stay in Liverpool for treatment and we will continue to monitor his progress. If he improves he will join us in Prague."

The news could have been worse for Staunton. Finnan's likely deputy John O'Shea suffered a knock on the knee in training yesterday at Malahide, and failed to complete the session.

Centre-back Paul McShane is also still yet to fully train as he tries to shake off a painful shoulder problem. But the indications are that both players are being treated with caution and should be fit for Bratislava.

Leeds midfielder Jonathan Douglas, who will be hoping to make the substitutes' bench for the game, says life in League One should stand him in good stead for a match the Irish really need to win.

The Slovakians' physical presence impressed during their 1-0 defeat at Croke Park in March and an equally bruising encounter is expected in Bratislava on Saturday night.

But the 25-year-old Douglas insists he is undaunted by the Slovakians' reputation after getting used to life in the rough and tumble of English football's third tier with his club this season.

Douglas said: " Slovakia are a big physical team but they are not overly powerful. If you think they're physical you ought to try playing in League One and then you'll know all about it.

"League One is a lot more physical and you get a lot less time on the ball, but it's competitive football and that's what I like, getting my foot stuck in and I rise to that sort of challenge."

Douglas, who will probably have to be content with a place on the bench, bears the scars of his experience.

" I've had six toenails in about two years and that's what you get when Championship and League One players are kicking it," he said.

Douglas' team mate Aiden McGeady is eager to prove his "lazy" days, when he dismissed the alien concept of a strong team ethic, are long gone by shooting the Republic of Ireland towards Euro 2008.

McGeady's precocious talent earned him an adidas boot deal at the age of 13 ... and also the interest of a number of big English Premier League clubs before he committed himself to Celtic one year later.

It is small wonder McGeady, once considered the most coveted schoolboy footballer in Britain, initially mocked suggestions that he temper his dazzling wide play with an unselfish streak.

Now 20, the success of McGeady's steep learning curve is evident in both his club form for the Hoops and the increasing influence he is having on his country's bid to wriggle through an extremely tight Group D qualifying programme.

Having starred in last month's friendly win in Denmark, in which he played a part in all four Republic goals, McGeady can expect to start when the Irish campaign resumes against Slovakia on Saturday.

McGeady said: "When I was younger I was a lazier player. A lot of what people said went in one ear and out of the other.

"For example, I never used to think about working back and doing a job for the team until it was drummed into me.

"A lot of it is to do with your state of mind and it comes down to whether you can be bothered or not. As you get older you realise you can't really do that any more and that the manager is right.

"I'm a very different player now and the main part of my game is working back. If you don't do a job for the team people consider you a luxury player, and luxury players don't generally get a run in the team."

Belfast Telegraph


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