O’Neill hits back at Koeman criticism

Martin O’Neill has hit back at Ronald Koeman after the Dutchman complained the Republic of Ireland “massively overloaded” James McCarthy by playing him in two World Cup qualifiers in the space of four days.

McCarthy, back after a six-spell on the sidelines with a groin injury, played 90 minutes at the Aviva Stadium last Thursday before putting in an 80-minute shift in the 3-1 defeat of Moldova the following Sunday.

Koeman had urged O’Neill to “protect” McCarthy in the build-up to the Group D clashes.

He couldn’t hide his frustration after his midfielder subsequently played all but ten minutes of the two games.

“After five or six weeks out of football after his surgery, he played the full game after three group sessions with Ireland,” Koeman said.

“He played the second game, and he’s been massively overloaded.”

However, O’Neill responded to those comments on Friday, strongly defending his decision to play the 25-year-old and stressing his faith in the Ireland medical team after they’d passed McCarthy fit to play.

“I have been involved in club and international management for a considerable time and I take exception to the remarks made,” he told the Irish Daily Mail.

Naturally, he tired in the second half and was substituted, but not through injury – Martin O’Neill
“I have the utmost regard for the Republic of Ireland medical team who are as good as any in Europe.

“James played in our home game against Georgia last Thursday, and came through the match with no ill effects. Accordingly, he started the game against Moldova last Sunday.

I believe he trained with Everton today and is available for selection if required this coming weekend.”

The Toffees travel to Manchester City on Saturday with another Irish midfielder, Darron Gibson, fit and ready to go after he recovered from a groin injury.

Striker Romelu Lukaku and defenders Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are also available for the short trip to the Etihad.

Lukaku reported an issue with his thigh after Belgium’s World Cup qualifier last week but has now recovered while Jagielka, who pulled out of England’s squad with a similar problem, and Baines, who missed the last two matches with a hamstring strain, are also ready for action.

Aaron Lennon is a doubt with a minor knock.

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