Football: Charlton chooses to wait: McGrath and Kernaghan give Republic of Ireland manager cause for concern

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CONTINUING doubts over the fitness of his first-choice central defenders, Paul McGrath and Alan Kernaghan, seems certain to deny the Republic of Ireland manager, Jack Charlton, the opportunity to send out his preferred World Cup team for tonight's friendly against Bolivia at Lansdowne Road.

Both reported to their training camp troubled by the injuries that forced them to miss the finale to the Premiership season and the first two preparatory games against Russia and the Netherlands. McGrath, who was also in trouble with Aston Villa after an unscheduled leave of absence, has a shoulder strain, Kernaghan a damaged thigh muscle.

Charlton, who also has to decide whether to restore Denis Irwin and John Aldridge at the expense of Gary Kelly and Tommy Coyne, delays naming his side so he can make a late check on their availability.

'They both want to play, but I am not prepared to risk anybody this close to the World Cup,' Charlton said. 'Paul missed about five weeks towards the end of the season and, quite honestly, it shows. My plan is to give him a full game against the Czechs on 5 June, the day before we leave for the US, but hopefully we can also give him a bit of a game tomorrow night or against Germany on Sunday.'

At least Charlton knows he is well covered if both men fail to make it. Kevin Moran and Phil Babb presented a formidable barrier to the Dutch in last month's uplifting victory in Tilburg but, having been out for so long, he is anxious to reaquaint McGrath and Kernaghan with meaningful match practice against the South Americans, who scored victories over Brazil and Uruguay on their way to claiming a place in the World Cup finals for the first time in 44 years.

The manager has no worries about the first name on the team sheet, selecting Pat Bonner (on his 34th birthday) for his 72nd cap, equalling Liam Brady's record. Having just been released by Celtic on a free transfer, the goalkeeper has been assured that his international claims are as strong as ever.