Irish relief after Given shrugs off injury scare

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The Independent Online

With Damien Duff back at Chelsea for assessment after damaging ligaments in his left knee - which may mean a six-week lay-off - and Roy Keane nursing a broken bone in his foot, then Ireland's manager, Brian Kerr, could be forgiven for believing the footballing Gods were against him.

Kerr certainly thinks everyone else is. Under pressure from the Football Association of Ireland - who have no intention of renewing his contract unless at least the play-offs are reached - he has become an increasingly tetchy, irritable figure, lashing out at his critics and doing himself or his prospects little help in the process.

Although Ireland squeaked to victory against Cyprus at the weekend, keeping their hopes alive, the performance was as bad as many observers could remember. But that will matter little if the Swiss are defeated at Lansdowne Road as Group Four, the tightest of all World Cup qualifying groups, is settled.

Ireland's prospects will be damaged if Given - their best player by far at present - is further troubled by the ankle injury he picked up in training yesterday. Yet Kerr insisted last night that Given was "fully fit" and will train this morning. The goalkeeper may be known as "Lazarus" because of his ability to recover from injuries, but Sheffield United's Paddy Kenny has been put on standby.

Robbie Keane is also a worry - not because of injury but because of his poor form. On merit, at present, it should be the Tottenham Hotspur striker rather than 21-year-old Stephen Elliott who gives way to allow for the return of Clinton Morrison.

It is highly unlikely that Kerr will drop Keane - that would be a seismic moment - and he may, in fact, keep Morrison on the bench. But with just one goal in six games this year for his country, plus his poor all-round contribution, then Keane is not cutting it right now.

His friend Dunne - both are from Tallaght - has also suffered recently while in Irish green but yesterday he dwelled on "the situation with Brian" saying that it had become "annoying" for the players.

"We feel everything is being focused on the manager's contract, and who is going to be the next manager," the Manchester City defender said. "With the importance of these two games, we are not getting much support. Everything seems to be negative. Yet in the camp everyone is fine."

Dunne added: "This is a big week for us. We want the crowd and media on our side. The more people we get behind us, the better. We all want to go to the World Cup, primarily for ourselves, but it would be nice if we had everyone behind us because that makes things easier and everyone can enjoy it a bit more."

Such sensitivity is wholly unwarranted although Dunne did make one reasonable point when adding: "If the FAI are going to give Brian a new contract, or whatever, they are not going to do it before Wednesday." Indeed, they are not.

Matt Holland, who is likely to displace Graham Kavanagh in the centre of midfield, said that the Swiss game amounted to a "one-off, a cup final". He added: "All we need is the three points." It may be all Ireland need but, right now, and given their form and that of the Swiss, who are unbeaten in 12 matches, it seems a mighty big ask.

* The Southampton defender Chris Baird looks set to return, after suspension and a thigh problem, to the Northern Ireland side as they attempt to claim third place in Group Six against Austria in Vienna tomorrow, but Aaron Hughes is again out with a hernia injury. Grant McCann of Cheltenham has been called up as Tony Capaldi is banned for the final game following his yellow card against Wales.

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