Martin O'Neill taking hits to Ireland squad in his stride
MARTIN O'NEILL has urged the Republic of Ireland not to throw away the chance to book their place at the Euro 2016 finals.
The Republic will head into Friday night's play-off first leg against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica with injury and suspension threatening to derail O'Neill's best-laid plans. However, the Ireland boss has ordered his troops, who beat world champions Germany last month to keep their qualification hopes alive, to make sure they are still in the tie when they return to Dublin for Monday's night's second leg amid public pessimism surrounding his selection headache.
O'Neill said: "I don't think the players will be swayed by that. They will feel after Germany that they are capable of getting a result.
"Make no mistake about it, the games will be difficult, but you wouldn't be expecting any sort of walk-over in play-off games. We have to stay overnight because we can't get back here to Dublin on the Friday, so we stay on Saturday, get back and get ourselves prepared for the second game. But there's no point in preparing for the second game if you haven't done the preparation for the first one.
"The momentum swinging towards them [Bosnia] doesn't bother me, it genuinely doesn't bother me. We have got ourselves into this position and we don't want to throw it away lightly."
Ireland secured their place in the shoot-out by finishing third in Group D behind the Germans and Poland, edging out Scotland in the process, and O'Neill freely admits he would have taken that outcome back in September last year as he set out on the campaign.
He said: "We have earned the right to be there, particularly with our results against the world champions, and we have accumulated the points. We are pleased to be here.
"I think if you had mentioned to me a way back when the group was first introduced that we would have a home and away match in the play-offs to try to qualify, regardless of who was available for us at the time, I probably would have taken that."
Just who will be available for the first leg remains to be seen, with Jonathan Walters and John O'Shea ruled out by suspension - the Sunderland man is also battling a hamstring problem - and Shay Given through injury.
As well as O'Shea, O'Neill is awaiting news on Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot, who played for his club last weekend having nursed a thigh problem all week, and striker Shane Long, who has not kicked a ball since damaging his foot in Poland last month.
The manager said: "Shane has seen a specialist today, I think he got an injection and he hasn't ruled himself out yet at this moment. Naturally, he hasn't done that much work since he came off against Poland. That, again, might be one where the the next couple of days would tell us just about everything, but it would be great if he felt after the injection that his foot was fine and he was raring to go.
"[O'Shea is] not feeling too bad, but we'll see. I think he thought the Sunderland game at the weekend might have come a wee bit too early, but there are a few extra days and we'll see how he is by Wednesday."
However, O'Neill admitted he was slightly perplexed by Elliot's situation after his starring role in the Magpies' 1-0 Barclays Premier League win at Bournemouth.
He said: "I find this one a wee bit strange when Rob actually played the game and was man of the match. He is being assessed by a specialist again today [Monday] and we will get an update with him either later on this evening or maybe tomorrow morning."