Gibson's fitness to be tested in Oman tie as O'Neill looks ahead to first competitive game

Gibson's fitness to be tested in Oman tie as O'Neill looks ahead to first competitive game

MARTIN O'Neill is looking past tonight's international friendly and says that he can't wait for his long-awaited first competitive game in charge when Ireland face Georgia in Tbilisi in Sunday’s opening Euro 2016 qualifier.

The Ireland manager has had to wait almost 10 months for this fixture, but the team will first have to host Oman in a friendly this evening in Dublin.

"It's been a long time,” O’Neill admitted.

“It's something I've never been used to, to play a competitive game how many months, eight or nine after you joined up in November last year?

"Any job you have gone to at club level if you were only starting at pre-season, other than that you would be stepping into job and playing a competitive game within a couple of days.

"This is the first competitive game and we want to start as strongly as we possibly can, try to get some points on the board if it's at all possible, in a group that's going to be tight.

"I have said this before: the group is going to be very, very tight and I think four sides will be vying for that position."

There have been concerns over the fitness of midfielders Darron Gibson and James McClean ahead of the trip to Georgia, who are both recovering from lengthy spells on the sidelines with injury.

The Oman game will be used by the Ireland boss to assess the potential return of the two players, and Gibson is set to feature in the starting line-up 10 months after he suffered a cruciate ligament injury at the Aviva Stadium.

Shay Given is also likely to be handed an opportunity to win his 126th senior cap when he shares goalkeeping duties with Rob Elliot on his return from international retirement.

When questioned about the team selection for the game in Georgia, O’Neill said: "I'd like to see how Darron performs, I'd like to see the fitness levels of a couple - James McClean, of course, hasn't played much.

"That's very much a case of a day-by-day thing. He has trained with us the last few days - he hasn't had any football since he had an injury a way back the 10th or 12th of July.

"Wigan are obviously concerned about him going in. We will see how [he] is today - he hasn't had much contact football. Again, those are the sort of things that we face, but we'll see how it goes."

Everton midfielder Gibson has conceded that the opportunity to establish himself as a regular first team player in the Ireland squad is one that may not come around again, and that he is relishing the prospect of returning to action.

"Being out for 10 months last season gave me a lot of time to think about things, and I think this is now or never, really, to be honest with you, so I am looking forward to the task ahead," he said.

"It just made me realise that I'm not getting any younger. I need to start playing games and I need to start doing well for myself. It's a big opportunity for me."

Ireland v Oman, Aviva Stadium KO 7.45pm