FOR those of us who fancied a bit of a spring lift from Martin O'Neill and a few new, young footballers to

FOR those of us who fancied a bit of a spring lift from Martin O'Neill and a few new, young footballers to think about, this was a squad announcement to forget. Mostly the same names and even some we had forgotten.

O'Neill may decide to drop Richard Dunne out when he cuts his squad to suit the reality of injuries and no-shows and he has already spoken to Stephen Ireland, but remains unsure about where that one might end up.

O'Neill believes that Dunne is playing so much football for his club that he may not need the extra burden of an international friendly, but he will wait to see how his squad looks in a week before making a decision one way or other.

As far as Stephen Ireland is concerned, O'Neill is playing a cute enough game and when asked why not just name him in a panel and see what happens, he pleaded ignorance, suggesting that until he sees enough of the player actually playing, he won't even make up his mind whether he needs him or not.

This, of course, pushes everything back on to Ireland, who O'Neill suggested was "warming" to the idea of a return from exile.

Essentially, O'Neill, who admitted he has had a phone conversation with Ireland, has left the matter to the player and at the same time told him that if he isn't playing and playing well, whether he wants to play for his country again or not is neither here nor there.

It did little to satisfy the natural interest in Ireland's international future, but simply left everything hanging, something that we may have get used to with O'Neill.


The one topic O'Neill was happy to speak about with some passion was the fact that in all the travels undertaken by the three-man management team, they haven't yet stumbled across the uncut gem we were all hoping for.

Unlike previous cycles in the game, there is no obvious push of youth coming from below to energise old-timers and put pressure on them.

This is a subject which has been raised time and time again before O'Neill took this job and it is certain to be a topic of debate when he's gone.

But in the here and now, he had to settle for a familiar squad with few changes from the selection Noel King made as interim boss back in November.

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