Storm clouds gather as Harry Arter speculation adds to Declan Rice setback

O’Neill’s attempts to enter new campaign with optimism derailed by doubts surrounding international future of English-born midfielders

Harry Arter tackles Aaron Ramsey during yesterday’s Premier League match at Cardiff City Stadium. Photo: David Price/Getty Images
Harry Arter tackles Aaron Ramsey during yesterday’s Premier League match at Cardiff City Stadium. Photo: David Price/Getty Images

This is not the first day of term that Martin O’Neill had in mind. In the course of his recent round of media interviews, the Ireland manager made it clear that he wanted to face into this autumn with an enthusiastic approach.

The World Cup disappointment was in the rear-view mirror. It was the road ahead that was supposed to engage minds.

March’s training camp in Turkey – the first game since Denmark – was the beginning of that process. Then came a summer double-header with France and the USA.

That was all building towards this week and the beginning of something approaching serious business in Cardiff on Thursday. This was the time to park any lingering issues and attempt to move forward with a clean slate. The events of the past seven days have left that plan in tatters.

First, we had the news that Declan Rice, the best Irish player in all three of their games in 2018, is now unsure where his international future lies – a development which takes most of the good out of the memory of those exercises.

And now it has emerged that Harry Arter will be out of the squad that is finalised today, seemingly of his own volition.

The Cardiff loanee showed that he was fit and well by playing the duration of his club’s match with Arsenal yesterday. Prior to the game, had reported that doubts now hung over Arter’s short-term international future.

O’Neill has already confirmed that Arter was involved in an altercation with assistant manager Roy Keane in the summer but said that the situation had been defused.

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But it has become a live topic again, with strong speculation that Arter is unhappy within the Ireland set-up.

The timing is particularly poor given that it follows on from the Rice drama, although the FAI have strongly denied any suggestion that the West Ham youngster was caught up in any summer tensions.

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Jon Walters (below) was also involved in a row with Keane, with comments from the No 2 about players sitting out training due to injury leading to a disagreement.

Long ball: Jon Walters v Austria, June 11, 2017. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

But there is no doubt around Walters’ position, with a loan move to Ipswich ensuring regular football for the veteran attacker.

He is important to Ireland, and there is no doubt that Arter would have a role to play in O’Neill’s third campaign in normal circumstances, given that he is actively involved at top-flight level. Jeff Hendrick is the only other midfielder named in the original provisional squad to have featured in the Premier League this season.

Arter’s Irish journey has been quite stop-start, with injury ruling him out of Euro 2016, while management seemed unsure about the 28-year-old during the course of the World Cup tilt.

He was dropped after the draw with Georgia in September of last year, but O’Neill brought him back in for the October games after detailing that he had pulled Arter aside for a chat during the September gathering.

What followed was Arter’s best performance in an Ireland shirt. Ironically enough it came in Cardiff, the scene for this week’s action, when his clever dummy in a busy performance led to James McClean’s winner.

However, he struggled in the playoff and then fell out of favour at Bournemouth.

In June, he arrived with doubts over his fitness and ended up playing a peripheral role on the pitch, although it now appears he was central to the off-the-field action with Keane.

1 June 2018; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, right, and assistant manager Roy Keane during training at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The FAI refused to comment on the Arter developments yesterday, but O’Neill will have to address the matter today, with the focus again sure to be on players that are absent from proceedings.

Last week was dominated by the Rice U-turn, and England manager Gareth Southgate confirmed over the weekend that he had spoken with the London-born 19-year-old.

In reality, the onus is now on the player to come out and explain his position.

Similar comments apply to Arter, who is old enough and experienced enough to articulate his own view.

He is a regular presence in news pages and on the airwaves and will know that playing no part in the Wales-Poland double-header will inevitably lead to theories about the reasoning.

There is no logical football argument for leaving Arter out of the squad, much as he has failed to set the world alight over the past 12 months.

It’s a headache for O’Neill, who has a limited enough window to prepare for the Nations League kick-off against a Welsh side energised by a change of management and the availability of Real Madrid star Gareth Bale.

Ireland’s Premier presence could be further weakened, with the FAI waiting on the results of a scan on Shane Long’s foot, after the striker sustained some damage in Southampton’s win at Crystal Palace. The early vibes are negative.

Callum Robinson did score for Preston in their draw with Bolton, yet he is not really an out-and-out striker and one would expect O’Neill to start with Walters in a central berth if Long misses out.

Alan Browne also scored a fine goal for Preston on Saturday and a vacancy in the centre of the park could pave the way for a battle between a Championship contingent, with Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane, Reading’s David Meyler and Millwall’s Shaun Williams also in the equation and Hendrick a definite starter.

There are a few matters to address, however, before the match becomes the central focus of this week’s get-together.

Irish Independent

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