McCarthy laments injury toll

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The Independent Online
Niall Quinn, Ray Houghton, David Kelly, Curtis Fleming and Keith O'Neill have all withdrawn with injuries from the Republic of Ireland squad for the vital Group Eight qualifiers in Iceland on Saturday and Lithuania next Wednesday.

The news did not get any better yesterday for the Irish manager, Mick McCarthy, after an x-ray on the Norwich striker O'Neill revealed a cracked bone in his foot.

McCarthy said: "Keith has got to be one of the unluckiest players around with injuries. If you see him signing autographs and hear a crack then, with his luck, it is more likely to be his finger than the pencil."

Quinn, who made his international comeback after a year out when Ireland were held to a home goalless draw by Lithuania two weeks ago, has had more trouble with the knee injury that has dogged his career.

The Reading player-coach Houghton, a veteran of some of the Republic's finest successes, had to miss his club's game against Queen's Park Rangers on Tuesday night and confirmed his withdrawal yesterday.

Fleming left the Irish training camp in Dublin yesterday to return to Middlesbrough, after failing a fitness test on a groin injury, and Kelly, who withdrew on Tuesday, has had a cartilage operation. McCarthy would have turned to the Boro forward Alan Moore as a replacement, but he too is injured.

The Irish squad, due to travel to Reykjavik early this morning, is now reduced to 19 players, even if O'Neill, who has missed four of the last five World Cup qualifiers with other injuries, makes the trip.

McCarthy's side need maximum points from both games to keep alive their chances of finishing runners-up in the group and qualifying for a two- leg play-off against one of the other groups' second-placed teams.

He said: "If any of the players we leave behind when we go to Iceland suddenly make a dramatic improvement in their fitness, it is possible I could ask them to fly out and join us in Lithuania after the weekend.

"The squad now looks very skinny and, although we are well loaded with defenders, I won't have too many options in other positions. But we'll just have to go out there with the players we've got, and I still believe we have enough ability to win both matches."

Another worry for McCarthy, though, is that nine of his remaining players - including the captain Andy Townsend and midfielder Roy Keane - are on yellow cards. They will be automatically banned from Wednesday's match in Vilnius if booked again against Iceland.

McCarthy has already promoted the West Bromwich Albion winger Kevin Kilbane from the Under- 21 squad to the senior party and may have to call on further recruits from the younger players if there are more injuries or suspensions.

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