New Republic of Ireland national team manager Martin O'Neill is reported to be heading to Huish Park today to watch Everton loanee Shane Duffy. The former Aston Villa, Celtic and Leicester City boss is new to the job, having replaced Giovanni Trapattoni in November 2013, and has been experimenting somewhat with his centre-back partnerships in recent games, and so is clearly looking at his options in that area.
The 22 year old completed his 20th appearance for the Republic's Under-21 side, but bar a 2010 training camp he has yet to receive a call-up to the full national side, even though he was though highly enough to captain the Under-21s and to be nominated for an international award as part of his country's awards evening.
According to the Irish Independent, O'Neill will attend this afternoon's home match against Sheffield Wednesday to view a player who is now ending his time at Under-21 level, and so will be keen to step up to the next level. Speaking to the Irish Herald earlier this week, Duffy said he was proud to get 20 Under-21 caps but would rather have had a smaller number than that if it had meant that he got a full international call-up:
"It is an achievement to get 20 caps, but I don't really know if it's good or bad to have been in the U21 squad for that long as I feel like I am a man now. In an ideal world, you wouldn't have 20 U21 caps, you would be in the senior squad by then, I think I'd prefer to have none than to have 20. But I wasn't getting games at club level when I was at Everton, so I wasn't able to show what I was capable of. And I can't say that I should have been in the senior squad by now as my club form wasn't worthy of that, so I stayed with the U21s and the caps just added up over the years."
Even before today's news, Duffy appeared to be aware that O'Neill had been sending representatives to Yeovil Town matches at various times. He felt that Trapattoni had been relying upon second hand reports, but that the new Ireland boss was getting more first hand information in making his decisions, and that would give him a better chance of selection:
"I think the door is more open now and you do feel that someone from the Ireland set-up is watching you. If they are coming to games in the Championship, it is better for everyone, I don't think Trapattoni came to the games or even knew what the Championship was. There is a bit of a shop window and it means that the manager will pick a player based on what he sees, not on what someone else has said."
O'Neill tried different centre-back options during midweek, as he selected Derby County defender Richard Keogh along with former Glovers loanee Marc Wilson who is on Stoke City's books, as part of their midweek match against Serbia, with first choice pair John O'Shea and Richard Dunne sitting it out. The Irish press had speculated that Duffy might get a call-up for that game, and expressed surprise that he had been left with the Under-21s again. With Ireland having two international friendlies against Turkey and Italy in May 2014, perhaps this time Duffy may get the nod, if O'Neill likes what he sees today.
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