Martin O'Neill faces deepening injury crisis as Georgia awaits for Ireland
REPUBLIC of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill is taking nothing for granted ahead of the World Cup qualifier double-header against Georgia and Moldova amid a deepening injury crisis.
Ireland launched their Group D campaign with a 2-2 draw in Serbia last month, but striker Daryl Murphy, whose late strike secured a point in Belgrade, heads a lengthy list of players who will either definitely miss or remain doubts for Thursday night's visit of the Georgians to Dublin and the trip to Chisinau which follows three days later.
O'Neill said: "A reasonably decent friend of mine who knows nothing about football spoke to me a few days ago and he mentioned, 'If you can put six points on the board...'. I nearly throttled him.
"It's not like that. These games are difficult for us."
The level of difficulty has risen markedly in tandem with a casualty list which looks likely to rob O'Neill of several players. Newcastle's Murphy is out with a calf problem, while goalkeeper Keiren Westwood has a thigh injury, as has Anthony Pilkington, who is expected to miss out along with fellow midfielder Stephen Quinn, who faces several weeks on the sidelines with knee damage.
In addition, winger Aiden McGeady is struggling with a hamstring strain and striker Kevin Doyle is nursing a sore ankle. Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter has had a scan on a groin problem and O'Neill is awaiting an assessment but, as a result of the catalogue of both confirmed and impending withdrawals, he has added 21-year-old Manchester City keeper Ian Lawlor and Aberdeen forward Adam Rooney, 28, to his squad.
O'Neill said: "It would help to have fit players. It's not great, the quick turnaround - we fly out the next day to Moldova. But you have to curse your luck and get on with it."
Picture by PA
One man who could be available after missing the game in Serbia as he underwent groin surgery is Everton midfielder James McCarthy, although the Republic boss will not take any risks, with club manager Ronald Koeman having already voiced his fears over rushing the player back.
O'Neill said: "He's been recovering from the operation and has done a lot of work. He's pretty optimistic, but we'll see how that goes over the next two days.
"We don't have much time between now and Thursday. If he gets a couple of training sessions in, that would be beneficial for him and useful for us."
If the game in Moldova represents something of a step into the unknown for Ireland, they know all about Georgia from the last campaign. O'Neill's men kicked off their bid for Euro 2016 qualification with a 2-1 win in Tbilisi in September 2014, courtesy of McGeady's last-gasp strike, and Jonathan Walters' goal was enough to claim three more points at the Aviva Stadium 12 months later.
The Georgians lost their opening game against Austria 2-1 at home and will arrive in Dublin intent on redressing the balance: "It's a hard game for us, I don't see it any other way. The two games we had with them were really difficult matches. We have to try to win the game," O'Neill said.
"Late on in the game against Austria, they put on immense pressure and, with the problems we have here, we just have to cope with it, get on with it and play really strongly to win."