Football / World Cup: Missing McGrath mystery

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The Independent Online
The Republic of Ireland head for the unknown today and the potentially hazardous visit to Albania without the assistance of the player they would back above all others to guide them safely through the minefields of World Cup football.

Paul McGrath is out injured and, not for the first time, his absence is shrouded in mystery.

Jack Charlton, the Republic's manager, was barely able to throw light on a situation which leaves his defence shorn of its most commanding figure. 'We've had a call (it did not come to Charlton himself) from someone saying Paul won't be coming because he's done his knee,' he said. 'That's all I know. You know as much as me.'

Charlton confined his comments to that short statement, perhaps in fear that he might say something he would later regret. McGrath, the players' 'Player of the Year', returned on Thursday from Aston Villa's trip to Mauritius and is understood to have been in Ireland since then.

Charlton summoned Arsenal's David O'Leary to join the squad and named Alan Kernaghan and Kevin Moran as his centre-backs. Victory tomorrow in Tirana will enable the Republic to join Spain at the head of Group Three with 11 points, but having played a game less.

Roy Keane, the subject of increasing transfer speculation, will return to Nottingham Forest after the game to sort out his future with his new manager, Frank Clark. The Italian club, Sampdoria, are thought to be ready to pay pounds 7m and there is home interest from Manchester United and Blackburn.

Keane's contract allows him to leave the City Ground in October. 'Forest's relegation and Brian Clough's departure had a big influence on me,' he said. 'I need to discuss a few things and I have not shut my mind to the idea of moving abroad.'

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (v Albania, World Cup Group Three, Tirana, tomorrow): Bonner (Celtic); Irwin (Manchester United), Phelan (Manchester City), Moran (Blackburn Rovers), Kernaghan (Middlesbrough), Keane (Nottingham Forest), Houghton (Aston Villa), Townsend (Chelsea), Staunton (Aston Villa), Quinn (Manchester City), Aldridge (Tranmere Rovers).