Martin O’Neill has hit back over the Republic of Ireland’s handling of James McCarthy, labelling Ronald Koeman a “master tactician of the blame game”. O’Neill came under attack from the Everton manager after the midfielder returned to Merseyside injured following the international break and Koeman accused the Ireland coach of “not protecting the player”.

However, O’Neill released a statement which read: “The Everton manager, master tactician of the blame game, has struck out in his comments today, criticising both myself and James McCarthy. Perhaps a review of Everton’s pre-season programme might provide some enlightenment.”

“James had a magnificent tournament for the Republic of Ireland last summer during Euro 2016, playing his last game in very late June. He then returned to Everton after a very short break, but only 11 days later, he played his first of three games, all within an eight-day period, against Real Betis, Manchester United and Espanyol. Overloading?

“It should be added that James last played for his country on the October 9, 2016 – almost half a year ago. Since that time he has been totally under Everton’s supervision.

“James is diligent and conscientious in his professional preparation.

“Perhaps, in this instance, quiet introspection may serve the Everton manager and his medical staff better.”

Koeman read out a prepared statement on Friday, saying: “James had an injury when he reported for Ireland duty last week. Our medical team made the Ireland medical team aware of this, of course. Everton’s medical team advised extreme caution, not only due to the current injury but due to previous injuries too, and the assessment by the Ireland medical team was that it would be a high risk for James to play against Wales.

“But, of course, James has a strong desire to play for his country. So, when asked if he was fit to play, he said he felt he was fit, and he was selected to start the game by the Ireland manager who, in my opinion, in this instance was not protecting the player.

“Clearly James was not fit to play. He had trained only for two days with Ireland and he broke down during the warming up. I spoke to James, and he needs to take responsibility of this. But it is not the first time.”