Ireland’s friendly against Turkey in three weeks’ time could be a significant game for Martin O’Neill to rebuild a side battered by Denmark in the World Cup playoffs.
November’s heartache was compiled with a worrying stat that saw the fewest ever number of Irishmen featuring in the Premier League. However, a number of youngsters have come to the front in recent months with players whose name meant nothing to Irish fans a year ago now possibilities for call-ups.
Another positive has been the reemergence of some more senior players who have fallen off the international radar. It may not be Ireland’s most gifted ever pool but it is certainly one full of variety, passion and desire. The likes of Sean Maguire, Alan Browne and Conor Hourihane will hope to build on Ireland caps with others hoping to make the breakthrough having been on the fringes.
We examine a number of players who could come into the mind of O’Neill as he begins to construct his squad. Some are uncapped, some have been involved and some could be shock names in the squad announcement.
Potential New Faces
Declan Rice (West Ham United)
Following suspected interest from England, Declan Rice seems to be fully committed to the Irish cause and must surely feature against Turkey. One of the few Irishmen playing regularly in the Premier League and remarkably still only 19, Rice is arguably better than some of Ireland’s regular defenders and will inject some much-needed youth into the squad.
Matt Doherty (Wolves)
Doherty has been knocking around for a long time but has yet to sport the Irish jersey. The 26-year-old has thrived as a right wing-back in a Wolves side running away with the Championship title. Has been involved with several Irish squads and must surely be deserving of an Irish cap especially given the fact that Seamus Coleman may be eased into the action and that Cyrus Christie has only managed a handful of games since Christmas.
Liam Kelly (Reading)
One of Ireland’s standout Championship players of the last 18 months. Attacking midfielder Kelly has a similar build and playing style to the recently retired Wes Hoolahan and could potentially be the superior player. Has come back strongly from injury and like Doherty, will wonder how he has yet to win an Irish cap. Could be a huge player for the next campaign.
Scott Hogan (Aston Villa)
Finally looking more confident following a slow start to his Villa career. Hogan is another who has been involved with Irish squads but remains uncapped. The former Brentford man has a similar playing style to Shane Long but at present looks the better finisher and comfortable on the ball. Could lead the line for Ireland in the next campaign.
Enda Stevens (Sheffield United)
Having shone for Portsmouth last season, ex-Shamrock Rovers man Stevens has made huge strides with Sheffield United. Playing as a left wingback in an expansive Blades side, Stevens has improved drastically since leaving Aston Villa and will provide the much-needed competition at left back.
Hopeful of a recall
Greg Cunningham (Preston North End)
Part of the Irish contingent at Preston, Greg Cunningham has come back strongly from injury to make an instant impact in the Championship. Arguably one of the league’s top fullbacks, Cunningham has been involved with the Irish set-up since 2010 with injuries blighting his prosperous career. However, with Stephen Ward’s struggles, Cunningham could be the man to step in at left back for the next campaign and should be afforded the chance against Turkey.
Alan Judge (Brentford)
Finally back playing after a nightmare 18 month lay off, yet game time has been understandably scarce. Looks the natural successor to Wes Hoolahan and like the Norwich man, could still have a successful international career despite coming to the fold at a later age. The best way to describe him is a combination between Hoolahan and Andy Reid. Full of energy, pace skill and creativity, Dubliner Judge could be the mercurial threat Ireland have lacked.
Anthony Pilkington (Cardiff City)
A player Ireland fans were extremely excited about during his Norwich days but Anthony Pilkington has drifted off the international radar, without actually doing much wrong. The 29-year-old has been used as an impact sub by Neil Warnock at Cardiff and to great effect. Can play on either wing or through the middle and has the ball control and delivery that Ireland’s wingers lacked in the World Cup qualifying campaign. A low key prospect but certainly deserved of another crack for Ireland.
Cillian Sheridan (Jagiellonia)
Not in the same form of his early Jaggielonia days but Cillian Sheridan is still a key part of the Polish League leaders title pursuit. His last cap came in 2010 despite being one of Ireland’s most prolific strikers available for the last several years. Would offer a different option up front given his height and despite the goals drying up is still playing relatively well.
Darron Gibson (Sunderland)
May be an unpopular name on this list but Gibson was Sunderland’s best player by quite a distance before yet another injury occurred. Due back in the next week or so and could offer some much-needed composure and experience in the centre of midfield. Gibson is one of the few available Irish players with Champions League experience and although unlikely to be a regular for Ireland, does possess that bit of quality on the ball that the Irish midfield lack. Certainly worth another crack if he is fit in time.
Josh Cullen (West Ham United)
Could be in the running for an Irish call-up despite failing to add to some extremely impressive FA Cup performances. A technically gifted player who is tidy and creative on the ball, Ireland under-21 captain Cullen has undoubted quality and will look to join Declan Rice in the senior set-up. If his development continues he could be a future Ireland captain.
Conor Shaughnessy (Leeds United)
Galway youngster Shaughnessy has only amassed nine appearances this season but has been an ever-present squad member in an inconsistent Leeds side. Form would suggest he is not in the running for a senior call-up but Martin O’Neill could view him as part of his rebuilding process. Converted from midfield back to defence, Shaughnessy is a ball playing centre-half who is most comfortable in a back three.
Michael Obafemi (Southampton)
Another man with very little first team game time but Michael Obafemi could get an Ireland nod to ease the fear of him declaring for Nigeria or England. The Dublin born striker made headlines when he made his first-team bow against Spurs at the tender age of 17, nearly scoring in the process. A quick and robust striker, Obafemi could be a man Martin O’Neill views as a potentially valuable asset and part of his rebuild.
Kieran Sadlier (Cork City)
Ireland are looking bare out wide and O’Neill may not have to look any further than the League of Ireland champions. Kieran Sadlier has been phenomenal since arriving in Ireland and the former West Ham youngster could be pushing for an Irish call-up. The English born midfielder is tremendous on the ball and has the creativity that Ireland require in abundance.
James Maddison (Norwich City)
Although Scott Hogan could prove otherwise, Ireland have yet to uncover any real granny rule gems in recent years. James Maddison is a man hugely sought after domestically and could soon be internationally. The attacking midfielder has been one of the Championship’s best players this term and qualifies for the boys in green. The 21-year-old has 8 goals this season and would represent a major coup for O’Neill should he pursue him.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena