Monday August 27
Martin O’Neill names his Ireland squad for the double header against Wales and Poland and reveals that Declan Rice has turned down a call because he wants to take time to consider his international future following an approach from England and Gareth Southgate.
“I’ve been in his father’s house and he has got the shirts there so I know where the dad’s allegiance lies anyway,” said O’Neill, who added he was still hopeful that Rice would return. Former Ireland international Kevin Kilbane tweets that the teenager should not be picked again if he needs time to think and James McClean replies to say that he agrees with the sentiment.
Sunday September 2
There is strong speculation that Harry Arter will not be included in the trimmed-down squad for the games due to his unhappiness over a summer fall-out with Roy Keane – an issue that had been touched upon by O’Neill in his chat with the Irish Mirror as part of a series of one-on-one newspaper interviews. It is also reported that Rice was unsettled by Keane’s row with Arter.
Monday September 3
Arter’s absence from the panel is confirmed and, while O’Neill states that club and personal circumstances are also a part of the equation, he concedes that the disagreement between the Cardiff loanee and Keane is a major factor in the issue.
O’Neill says he had met Arter in the week after the squad announcement and the player outlined his stance. The 66-year-old said that while he respected Arter’s position, he did not agree with it. “Jon Walters had a disagreement. Jon Walters is coming in. I think you have to consider that,” said O’Neill.
Keane is given his full backing by O’Neill, who strongly refutes any suggestion that Rice was caught up in the tensions around the game with France and USA. “That is totally untrue,” says O’Neill, who adds that McClean has gotten in touch with Rice to say that he wants him to pick Ireland.
Tuesday September 4
Ireland’s plans for the away game with Wales at Cardiff City Stadium are thrown into further disarray when McClean suffers a fall in training and fractures his wrist. He joins a lengthy injury list ahead of the UEFA Nations League opener, with Shane Long also ruled out over the weekend.
Wednesday September 5
The Arter situation remains a major talking point on the eve of Ireland’s UEFA Nations League match against Wales with both O’Neill and captain Seamus Coleman speaking in support of Keane.
“I think he has been excellent since he came in and I think the captain here beside me would agree with that,” says O’Neill.
Coleman also suggests that players have to be prepared to deal with Keane’s uncompromising approach. “Roy’s very demanding. He expects the best,” says the Everton player. “No different to the manager beside me. As professional footballers, that’s what we have to deal with.”
Donegal native Coleman says Rice should be welcomed back if he opts for Ireland over the country of his birth. “He’s a 19-year-old born in England but there’s no reason why he can’t be a proud Irishman. I saw him after the Turkey game (March) and I saw him embrace his father in the tunnel. That’s not for show. It was genuine.”
Thursday September 6
Ireland are hammered 4-1 by Wales at the home of Cardiff City, with O’Neill taking issue with any suggestion that the drama surrounding Rice and Arter had played any part in the flat performance.
However, he says that the injuries were a major driver in the outcome with the Derryman stating that his squad was ‘decimated’.
Friday September 7
The squad stay on in Wales for training. O’Neill later reveals that he had a training ground row with David Meyler, who was unhappy over his exclusion from the starting side for Cardiff. Stephen Ward and Jonathan Walters are released from the squad to go back to their clubs due to knocks.
Sunday September 9
The Sunday World runs a news story detailing more information on the clash between Keane and Arter in Castleknock during the summer double header.
It quotes a witness. “Keane went for it,” read the story. “He called Arter every name under the sun, but we should not be surprised by that and it is not the first time they have clashed in recent years.
“Arter didn’t say much and just went back into his room and a few players went in with him, but no-one who witnessed that was surprised when he said he would not be coming back.
Ireland fly to Poland for the international friendly in Wroclaw.
Monday September 10
As the team settle into their Polish base, a leaked Whatsapp audio is getting Ireland talking. A clip of Stephen Ward describing the finer points of Keane’s rows with Walters and Arter is spread around the social media messaging app like wildfire and it contains explosive details of the expletive-ridden language used by the assistant manager towards the midfielder.
It also includes fresh information about Walters inviting Keane to his hotel room to sort out their differences – an offer that was promptly refused by the Corkman.
Both O’Neill and an irate Keane reach out to make contact with Ward, who explains that it was a private message sent to close friends who had let him down.
O’Neill decides to deal with the issue in his pre-match press conference, confirming that the recording was Ward but stating that the player’s version of events does not tally with Keane’s version.
He adds that Ward was not with the squad when the disagreement happened. However, O’Neill then reveals that Keane is now open to a reconciliation with Arter, and agrees with a question that posed the view that he may have gone too far.
Tuesday September 11
Ireland perform with considerable credit in Wroclaw, with a second-string team securing a 1-1 draw. The result is a boost considering that Noel King’s U21 side had suffered a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Germany hours earlier.
O’Neill says that it had helped to restore confidence after a difficult period for the squad. It transpires that Coleman missed the Poland match with a stress fracture in his foot, with the manager hopeful he will be back for the Nations League double header in October with Denmark and Wales.
He says that Rice and Arter would also be involved ‘in an ideal world’.