Martin O’Neill has finally signed his new contract more than three months after it was announced that he was to stay on as Republic of Ireland boss.
The Football Association of Ireland announced in June that O’Neill, assistant Roy Keane and their staff had agreed extensions, but even as Ireland opened their World Cup qualifying campaign in Serbia last month, the paperwork remained outstanding, sparking speculation that there could be an issue despite the former Northern Ireland international’s repeated denials.
However, speaking as he announced his squad for next month’s qualifiers against Georgia and Moldova on Friday, O’Neill told a press conference: “I have signed a new deal. It was never an issue. Roy and the backroom staff have followed suit. We’re delighted.”
The news will provide reassurance for those who feared the delay could see either O’Neill or Keane opt instead to return to club management after guiding the Republic to the Euro 2016 finals at the end of their first campaign in charge.
They will now concentrate their efforts on securing a first passage to the World Cup finals since 2002 after a near miss in controversial circumstances six years ago, when Thierry Henry’s play-off handball cost them their chance of a trip to South Africa.
A 2-2 draw in Belgrade, secured by Daryl Murphy’s late equaliser, got O’Neill’s men off to a positive start on a night when they did not play particularly well, although the manager is convinced that point could eventually prove invaluable.
He said: “The point in Belgrade was very important. Anyone that finishes ahead of Serbia will go very close to winning this group.”
However, the 64-year-old will hope for better as Ireland host Georgia at the Aviva Stadium on October 6 before a trip to Moldova three days later.
He has named a 33-man squad including Everton midfielder James McCarthy, who is currently working his way back to fitness after undergoing groin surgery.
O’Neill said: “I’ve spoken to our doctor who says James McCarthy is making good progress. We’ll see how he progresses.”
Central defender Shane Duffy returns to the squad after missing the Serbia game through suspension as a result of his dismissal in Ireland’s last Euro 2016 finals game against hosts France.
There is also a first senior call-up for Barnsley midfielder Conor Hourihane, while there is a place too for Aberdeen goalkeeper Danny Rogers, currently on loan at Falkirk.
Among the party which will meet up in Dublin next Sunday, there were recalls for Birmingham midfielder Stephen Gleeson, Cardiff counterpart Anthony Pilkington and Aberdeen’s Jonathan Hayes.
In addition, Robbie Keane’s retirement from international football has opened the door for Colorado Rapids frontman Kevin Doyle to return.
The 33-year-old won the last of his 62 caps in a 1-0 friendly victory over Switzerland in March, but suffered an horrendous gash to his shin and he did not make the cut for the squad which travelled to France.
Squad: Darren Randolph (West Ham), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Danny Rogers (Falkirk), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, Alex Pearce (all Derby), Paul McShane (Reading), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Shane Duffy (Brighton), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle), Marc Wilson (Bournemouth), Stephen Ward (Burnley), Aiden McGeady (Preston), James McClean (West Brom), Glenn Whelan (Stoke), James McCarthy (Everton), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Stephen Quinn (Reading), David Meyler (Hull), Conor Hourihane (Barnsley), Harry Arter (Bournemouth), Eunan O’Kane (Leeds), Stephen Gleeson (Birmingham), Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City), Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan (both Norwich), Anthony Pilkington (Cardiff), Jonathan Hayes (Aberdeen), Shane Long (Southampton), Daryl Murphy (Newcastle), Jonathan Walters (Stoke), Kevin Doyle (Colorado Rapids).