Giovanni Trapattoni has been hit with good news and bad news on the injury front as he prepares for the Euro 2012 playoffs against Estonia.
Captain Robbie Keane is ready to fire Ireland to the European Championship finals after making his comeback with the LA Galaxy in New York on Sunday night.
But Sunderland defender John O’Shea is a serious doubt for the game with a hamstring strain and Shane Long is all but ruled out with a knee injury.
“I am very confident about Robbie, I will speak to him when he arrives in Dublin next weekend and see how he is,” said Trapattoni after Keane returned following his adductor injury.
Waterford-born O’Shea, however, suffered a recurrence of an old hamstring injury in his club’s Premier League draw with Aston Villa on Saturday, and club boss Steve Bruce isn’t confident about his international hopes.
“It is not looking good for John with the injury for those two big Ireland games,” said Bruce. “It is the same injury he had before and I would have to say that he is doubtful for the Ireland games.”
Leeds United defender Darren O’Dea is another concern for the away leg in Estonia on Friday, November 11 after he was concussed during his team’s championship draw with Cardiff on Sunday.
Trapattoni will also allow Shane Long to make a final call on his fitness after the West Brom doctors claimed he will miss the Euro 2012 playoffs with a knee injury.
“Shane will talk to our own doctors this week, he is optimistic but it will depend on the medical staff,” insisted Trapattoni.
Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given, meanwhile, believes a repeat prescription can end his 10-year itch on his return to Tallinn.
The clocks have just gone back an hour as far as winter time in Ireland is concerned, but they will go back a decade for Irish football in Estonia.
No Ireland team has qualified for a major finals since Given tasted a 2-0 win in the same Tallinn stadium en route to the 2002 World Cup finals.
“Any of us who played in that game didn’t think then that we would be going back there 10 years later looking to qualify for our next finals,” admitted the Donegal ‘keeper with 118 caps to his name.
“No Irish team has been to the European Championships at all since Jack Charlton got us to Germany in 1988 so we have a few scores to settle against Estonia.
“It’s important that we are aware of all of that but it is also vital that we accept the challenge available to us in these two games.”
Still reticent to discuss his own future at this level, Given is adamant there will be time enough for all of that after the second leg of the playoffs at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday, November 15.
“These two games are too big in their own right to be worrying about my future,” he said.
“I said before the match against Armenia last time that I wouldn’t even talk about it then and it is the same now.
“I am concentrated only on winning these two games. We won 2-0 against them twice in those World Cup qualifiers the last time as I remember it and I would gladly take the same results again.
“The one thing we can’t do is underestimate them and we won’t. They won in Belfast in their final qualifier and that’s no mean achievement.”
The Ireland squad to play Estonia in the Euro 2012 playoffs is: Shay Given, Keiren Westwood, David Forde, Stephen Kelly, Stephen Ward, Richard Dunne, John O’Shea, Sean St. Ledger, Darren O’Dea, Paul McShane, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Keith Andrews, Keith Fahey, Darron Gibson, Andy Keogh, Damien Duff, Aiden McGeady, Stephen Hunt, Liam Lawrence, Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Simon Cox, Jon Walters.
CELTIC boss Neil Lennon rounded on his players again after another Scottish Premier League setback, this time in a scoreless draw at home to Hibernian on Saturday.
Lennon, linked with the Leicester managerial vacancy over the weekend, fears his lackluster players could cost him his job as his side slipped 12 points behind leaders Rangers.
Irish striker Anthony Stokes and his frontline partner Gary Hooper bore the brunt of their manager’s frustrations with the Hibs performance and result.
“I thought the two strikers (Stokes and Hooper) were poor and I need some more consistency from them. If they are not scoring goals they need to bring something else to the team, and I thought the two of them were very flat,” blasted Lennon.
“I am really angry, they let the game drift away from them and that is not acceptable. I would like to make changes but the way the squad is stretched it is difficult to do that.
“There are a few who have been consistent like Ki and Joe Ledley but there are others at the minute who are happy to go along, riding on their backs and not really making the contribution that I want from them.
“I have to speak to them and out them, basically. I am not happy with some of them at the minute. I don’t think they are giving enough in terms of the quality of their play or effort and I will speak to them individually and tell them what I think and I am looking for a response from them.
“But you ask them questions at times and you don’t get answers.”
Lennon did claim he is unconcerned about his own job -- for now.
“The only way I would leave the job this season is if I decide I am not taking the club forward or I am not getting the performances that the fans merit.
“When you come in 3-0 down against Kilmarnock at halftime, or against any SPL side, you have to ask questions about myself. Today, I am not hugely concerned about my position, it’s more of a question of why I can’t get these players to be as consistent as last season.
“I have shown a lot of faith in these players, and they keep letting me and my backroom staff down at the minute. I don’t know if it really hurts them enough, or if they treat it with indifference.”
MICHAEL O’Neill has set his sights on a League of Ireland title treble as he prepares to sign a new deal as Shamrock Rovers manager.
The former Newcastle United striker’s Tallaght deal expires after the final Europa League group game against Spurs in December.
The 42-year-old has been in talks with the Rovers directors all season to secure an extension and is close to an agreement.
“There are only a few little issues to be resolved and I am confident they will be resolved very soon,” said O’Neill after captain Dan Murray lifted the Airtricity League trophy following Friday night’s 4-0 win over Galway United.
“I have enjoyed my time here and I hope that the Rovers fans and the board have enjoyed my time here as well.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us and I want to be the man to take the club forward. We’ve won the league for the last two years now and I want to win it for a third time next season.
“We haven’t won the FAI Cup in my time here so that will be a target as well.”
O’Neill may lose his assistant Jim Magilton in the coming weeks, with the former Ipswich boss hotly tipped to succeed Nigel Worthington as Northern Ireland manager.
Magilton may bring O’Neill with him to Windsor Park but in a part-time role as his number two.
Greek side PAOK are next up for Rovers when they visit Tallaght for their Europa League group clash on Thursday night.
“We’ll enjoy this title win over the weekend but it’s back to work on Monday, we want to win a game in this group,” added O’Neill.
NEWCASTLE United striker Leon Best is at a loss to explain his absence from the Ireland squad as Giovanni Trapattoni faces a striker crisis against Estonia.
Wolves star Kevin Doyle is suspended for the first leg of the playoffs in Tallinn and West Brom’s Shane Long is unlikely to play in either game due to a knee injury but still Best has been left out of the squad.
Best said, “Every time it’s mentioned it baffles me. I’ve seen what Trapattoni’s been saying in the papers about work rate but he only needs to ring up Newcastle and ask for my stats, it’s as simple as that.
“The Prozone stats will tell you that I’m doing nearly 10km a day. I don’t what it is. Obviously, if he’s saying I need to work harder then I need to work harder. He’s a man to learn off, he’s got the experience and he knows what he wants.
“With Newcastle it’s the best time of my club career so it’s not a matter of disappointment. It just made me sit back and think -- what’s going on here?
“What have I done wrong or what more do I need to do because I was getting in the squad when I was playing in the championship and not playing every week so it’s totally baffled and confused me.
“I’ve not spoken to anyone or heard from anyone in the FAI. I haven’t got anyone’s number there apart from the security and I don’t feel I am in a position to just ring Trapattoni and ask him why he hasn’t picked me.”