MARTIN O’NEILL IS relishing the chance to assess his striking options when Ireland take on Serbia in the upcoming friendly.
The Ireland manager named a provisional 29-man squad for the 5 March meeting at the Aviva Stadium with six forwards listed – Shane Long, Daryl Murphy, Jon Walters, Kevin Doyle, Anthony Stokes and Simon Cox.
One notable omission is captain Robbie Keane, who has been sidelined since undergoing an Achilles operation in November but made his comeback for LA Galaxy last night in a friendly against UCLA.
Despite enjoying a goalscoring return to club football ahead of the start of the MLS season next month, the 33-year-old has been saved a return trip across the Atlantic by his international manager.
“I’ve spoken with Robbie,” O’Neill said at his press conference in Limerick today.
“I met up with (Galaxy boss) Bruce Arena in London in January and we had a discussion about him. He went in to have an Achilles operation and is feeling terrific. He said he wishes he had it done a considerable time ago and that he feels younger.
“We both agreed that we would let him get settled in after the operation. They’re starting their season very shortly so let him get going and monitor the situation so we will hopefully have him for the summer games.
“Robbie is pretty happy with that. If I’m going to look at someone else for this minute, I didn’t feel it was worth it to bring him over for half a game with the travelling time involved.”
In Keane’s place comes 30-year-old Ipswich striker Daryl Murphy, who won the last of his nine caps for the Boys in Green some five-and-half years ago.
The former Waterford United player has scored eight times for the Tractor Boys this season and will be hoping get his chance to impress in a fortnight.
I went to Ipswich on Saturday and thought Murphy played very well indeed. I’ve spoken to Mick (McCarthy) and he has been happy with him.
“If Robbie wasn’t going to be involved with us then let’s get him involved and I’m sure it will be a boost for him.
On his other options, O’Neill added: ”Stokes scored a hat-trick (last weekend), Doyle has moved to QPR from Wolves and I’m sure that will do him a world of good as he joins a promotion battle.
“I watched their game against Reading on Sunday where he got a goal. Any goal for a striker will give him a boost of confidence.
“Shane Long got a move to Hull and I think he is benefiting from that too.”