Ireland kicked off their 2018 campaign last week with a 1-0 defeat to Turkey in Antalya.
While the result will have been a disappointment to Martin O’Neill and the Boys in Green, the new formation in play and the number of new faces on show will at least have given fans some encouragement ahead of a year that sees Ireland play a number of friendlies before playing in the inaugural UEFA Nations League at the tail-end of the year.
With the Ireland squad now looking markedly different to how it did a few months ago, who can now be considered the most important players to the national setup?
5. Scott Hogan. Martin O’Neill paired Scott Hogan with Sean Maguire in the centre against Turkey last weekend, and while the clamour for the latter to start was much louder, the former arguably had the better of proceedings. Hogan won’t want to dwell on that first-half miss for too long, however, in a game of few chances for the visitors.
The Ireland starting spots up front are very much up for grabs right now (if O’Neill does revert back to one striker), and after last week it’s probably fair to say that Hogan has nudged ahead of Maguire in the race to nail it down.
Simply put, the starting striker is, by definition, one of the most important players in any team.
4. Robbie Brady. Brady is still a vital part of this Ireland side, but it’s also the case that he would have been higher up on this list 18 months ago Since then, the Burnley man has come off the back of an indifferent World Cup qualification campaign, a particular source of disappointment given his heroics at Euro 2016.
His set-pieces, when they come off, are still vital, particularly given how strong Shane Duffy is in the air, but Brady will surely know that he will have to raise his game to play as big a role as he would like in the Nations League and Euro qualifiers.
3. David Meyler. Meyler grew into the World Cup qualification campaign to the point where he arguably became the pivotal midfielder to Ireland’s system. The Hull City man was the only naturally defensively-minded midfielder selected for the Turkey friendly, and the balance he can provide in a side that will aim to be ore technical and creative in the centre of the pitch will be hugely beneficial.
2. Seamus Coleman. Coleman’s importance to this Ireland side was shown by the fact that fans and the FAI alike were practically counting down the days until the captain made his comeback. After a year out, the Everton man will be desperate to make up for lost time at right back, and while teammates enjoyed the benefit of his influence of the pitch in the last year, his influence on it is second to none.
Cyrus Christie is an able deputy, but there is no substitute for Coleman in this team.
1. Shane Duffy. Duffy’s ascension to becoming Ireland’s most important centre-back over the past 18 months has been well-documented, but while the new strikers take time to acclimatise, keeping it tight at the back has never been more important.
In that sense, Duffy is probably the most vital player to the Irish cause right now. The 26-year-old’s confidence at the back will be a crucial asset in the Nations League and Euro 2020 qualifiers – and with a full qualification campaign under his belt, he is the perfect mentor to help the likes of Declan Rice as the young West Ham man takes his first steps in senior international football.