James McCarthy is confident he will be fit for the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2016 opener against Sweden after bouncing back from a fitness scare.
The 25-year-old midfielder feared the worst when he reported for duty having picked up an injury to the groin and hamstring area in Everton’s final-day victory over Norwich, and alarm bells started ringing when he was unable to train with his team-mates all all ahead of last Friday night’s 1-1 friendly draw with Holland.
However, he was eased back into action from Monday after the squad had re-assembled in Cork and has gradually stepped up his work this week to the point where he was able to train with the rest of the group on both Thursday and Friday.
Asked if he would be ready to line up against the Swedes at the Stade de France of June 13, McCarthy said: “Yes, I should be fine.
“I’ve trained with the team the last couple of days and hopefully now I can step it up. It’s obviously good to be back training again with the squad and hopefully now I can kick on and step up the fitness.”
Manager Martin O’Neill has kept his fingers crossed with McCarthy a key member of his team, and his return to fitness will have come as a relief.
He initially told the media the player’s injury was a thigh problem, although it has since emerged that was not the case.
The midfielder said: “It’s hamstring, groin - it’s a bit of both, to be honest - but as I say, I am back training and delighted to be back with the squad.”
McCarthy’s return to the fold has been the one piece of good fitness news for O’Neill this week with the tournament fast approaching.
Skipper Robbie Keane and fellow striker Jonathan Walters were both spectators once again at the Fota Island Resort on Friday morning as the rest of the squad went through its paces, both of them nursing calf problems.
But Keane took to a mountain bike as his recovery is carefully supervised, although he is not expected to work with the group again until the middle of next week at the earliest, by which time the Republic will have taken up residence at the finals base at Versailles.
Ireland will head for France on the back of a first defeat in six matches with a virtual second string side having performed poorly to lose 2-1 to Belarus at Turner’s Cross on Tuesday evening, much to the annoyance of assistant manager Roy Keane.
They will do so determined to improve upon their showing Poland four years ago when they returned home having not managed to take a single point from their three games.
However, there is little danger of the players being allowed to get ahead of themselves.
McCarthy, who ruled himself out of contention for the squad in 2012 after his father was diagnosed with cancer, said: “There’s a massive excitement about the place, but we’ll take it a game at a time and we won’t get too carried away.
“Obviously the boss and the likes of Roy and the backroom staff, they know how important it is to not look too far forward.
“We have got a tough group, don’t get me wrong, but we’ll take it a game at a time. Each and everyone one of us who is going on the plane and travelling to France, we know it’s going to be tough, but there’s a real excitement about the place and we are looking forward to it.”