LONDON • Relations between Everton and Ireland have been further strained by Roy Keane's suggestion that the English football club's players need to "toughen up" after James McCarthy's absence from international duty.
Keane, Ireland's assistant manager, said that there was a long-held perception that Everton's players would always "turn up on crutches", dating back to Roberto Martinez's tenure, and raised the prospect of future run-ins with Toffees boss Ronald Koeman.
Tensions between Everton and Ireland have festered since the previous international break, when McCarthy started twice in the space of four days despite not having played for his club for six weeks because of injury.
Koeman accused the Irish of "killing" McCarthy and "overloading" the midfielder, who subsequently picked up a hamstring strain after one game back for his club.
There have been a series of tit-for-tat comments between Koeman and Ireland manager Martin O'Neill since McCarthy's fitness became an issue.
TOFFEES STUCK ON THE SIDELINES
I always felt the Everton players were going to turn up on crutches or crawling in the hotel door, and now it looks like we are probably going to have that issue again with Koeman. I hope not.
ROY KEANE, Ireland assistant coach, taking a swipe at Everton after midfielder James McCarthy withdrew from the Ireland squad.
McCarthy will miss the World Cup qualifier against Austria in Vienna on Saturday with a hamstring injury and Keane said: "We're disappointed that James is not here, but we knew he was struggling with the injury he had.
"We have had a problem previously with Martinez. I think he was slightly over the top. Every time, we felt, the Everton players were turning up - and this is not a criticism of the players, this is more from Everton and their staff - they were always carrying knocks.
"I always felt the Everton players were going to turn up on crutches or crawling in the hotel door, and now it looks like we are probably going to have that issue again with Koeman. I hope not.
"Maybe Everton as a club need to - and it's a brilliant football club - and maybe their players need to toughen up a little bit."
Koeman refused to be drawn on the matter on Tuesday as Keane went on to suggest that Everton need to look into whether their training methods are responsible for the problems with McCarthy, 25, and Darron Gibson, his 29-year-old team-mate for club and country.
"Why do we need a good relationship with Everton?" Keane said.
"Listen, they're lucky to have the Irish lads, and Everton traditionally have always had brilliant Irish players doing well for the club, so they shouldn't be so quick to stop Irish players coming to play for Ireland."
THE TIMES, LONDON