Graham Ruthven on the Aberdeen striker who won't be involved against Wales after making provisional squad
At Aberdeen it has become something of a routine around this time, when internationals fragment the club season, for Derek McInnes to bemoan the absence of his players in the Scottish national team. In fact, it has become such a custom that the whole procedure now verges on cliche.
Every time Gordon Strachan announces his Scotland squad (which invariably includes no Dons) it is put to McInnes whether his Aberdeen players receive the recognition they deserve, with Kenny McLean and Graeme Shinnie the two most commonly tipped for a call-up. But there’s another player at Pittodrie who boasts an even stronger claim for international acknowledgment.
Under McInnes Aberdeen have become Scottish football’s second force, even after Rangers’ return to the top flight this season. Adam Rooney, more than any other player, deserves credit for that achievement, having scored 62 goals over the past three seasons. Just like many of his teammates, he too has been overlooked by his national team.
Rooney was initially called into the Republic of Ireland squad for the upcoming fixtures against Wales and Iceland, but failed to make the final cut as Martin O’Neill trimmed his team down to 27 players. It continued what has become a pattern for the Aberdeen striker who has been called up for the last few Ireland squads, but has yet to make his full international debut.
Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle, Glenn Whelan and Adam Rooney ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
For anyone who has watched Rooney over the past few years, that is baffling. Behind Moussa Dembele and perhaps Leigh Griffiths, he has proven himself as the Scottish Premiership’s best out-and-out centre forward, becoming the figurehead of an Aberdeen side aiming to be the most successful since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
He is a frontman and the sort of player O’Neill is lacking, which makes it all the more peculiar that he has been cut for this week’s qualifier against Wales, with a friendly against Iceland still to come on the 28th. If Rooney can’t force his way into the fold now, with Ireland short of a true number nine, then when will he ever?
It might be that O’Neill doesn’t believe Scottish football, even at the very top, is a suitable benchmark for gauging whether a player is ready to make the jump up to international level. The former Celtic manager wouldn't be alone in holding that belief, with Strachan even preferring to pick players from down south for his national team.
Adam Rooney with Ireland under-21s in 2007 ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
But Northern Ireland’s success in recent years shows players that ply their trade in Scotland can compete at the top of the international game, with a large portion of Michael O’Neill’s squad made up of players from the nation’s top flight. The success of Virgil Van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster in the Premier League also shows Scotland can harness top-tier talent.
Of course, Rooney will never command a £13 million transfer fee like Van Dijk and will likely never play in the Champions League like Wanyama, but he is an undeniably proven and consistent goalscorer, which is something Ireland could certainly use in the post-Robbie Keane age.
Shane Long and Jonathan Walters may well be of a higher caliber, but neither are frontmen in the way Rooney is. The Aberdeen striker would offer Ireland something different, but for whatever reason O’Neill doesn’t seem interested. He’d rather include 34-year-old Daryl Murphy (six goals this season) and 33-year-old Kevin Doyle (just two games and no goals into his MLS season) over a player on course to reach the 20-goal mark for the third consecutive season.
Sitting top of Group D after their opening four games, O’Neill is perhaps wary of experimenting with a team that has so far worked for him. That stance would be at least understandable, if not somewhat flawed. If a better option is out there it’s up to O’Neill to use him. Rooney, as things stand, is that better option.