With Ireland’s crunch tie against Wales fast approaching, Martin O’Neill will name his provisional squad this week.
Provisional tends to be the key word when the Derryman reveals the consistently long list of players selected for international duty. It is usually a 40-man panel, reduced to 27 and then 23 for the match day. O’Neill is a loyal manager, meaning that it is the usual suspects failing to make the cut for his final squad.
Although the exclusion of some of these players can come as a relief for some fans, others missing out may feel a lot more hard done by should they be on a run of form leading up to the international break. Conor Hourihane and Matt Doherty are two prime examples.
Friendlies are usually deemed the perfect opportunity to blood new talent. However, given the impact negative friendly results can have on world rankings and qualification seedings, it is a rarity that large volumes of inexperienced internationals receive much game time. In fact O’Neill still tends to pick large provisional panels in the lead up to these non-competitive matches.
In Ireland’s last two regimes, ‘B’ international squads were assembled. Although this happened quite early in the Steve Staunton and Giovanni Trapattoni eras to familiarise themselves with what was available to them, it could be an exercise for O’Neill to follow given his fondness of including so many names in the first place.
Players like Keith Andrews, Shane Long, Darron Gibson and Stephen Hunt all benefited from these games when there may not have been many opportunities for them to see game time while with the Irish side.
There are some players in the current Ireland squad that have been capped already that could benefit from this, not to mention some of the young talent emerging this season.
Although this team is certainly up for discussion and opinion, it is a fair selection of players on the periphery that O’Neill may like to cast an eye over.
Goalkeeper Rob Elliot has been unlucky with injuries but is back on the bench for Newcastle while Ian Lawlor (Doncaster Rovers), who has been involved in provisional squads in the past, is a great talent. Colin Doyle (Bradford City), who was third choice against Austria, is another option.
Full-backs Greg Cunningham (Preston) and Matt Doherty (Wolves) could easily be in the final Ireland squad for Wales but have yet to get a fair run of games despite both being capable left-backs, which is a problem position for Ireland.
Derrick Williams (Blackburn Rovers) is good going forward and can fill in at centre-half. Andy Boyle is finally getting a run of games at Preston while Brentford’s John Egan has been long touted for a call-up. Dundalk’s Sean Gannon also showed his capabilities in the Europa League.
Peterborough captain Chris Forrester has had limited opportunities, which could possibly be as a result of playing in League One. Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa) and Daryl Horgan (Preston) should be in the final squad against Wales but game time is no guarantee in such a critical game, although if there is one pick from these players for a potential start it’s Horgan.
Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City) is another who O’Neill names on match days with Liam Kelly making a huge impression at Reading this season. Versatile Ryan Manning (QPR) and Alan Browne (Preston) are two other very exciting midfielders looking for a breakthrough, with Wigan’s Jack Byrne remaining a massive future prospect and Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen) still a regular on provisional lists.
Striking options have been a rarity for Ireland recently but Sean Maguire (Cork City) has shown his finishing capabilities and could become an international one day. Adam Rooney (Aberdeen) and Joe Mason (Wolves) remain without a cap while Lukas Jutkiewicz (Birmingham) could be a future victim of the provisional squad cuts.
Subs: Lawlor, Gannon ,Williams, Browne, Byrne, Manning, Hayes, Rooney
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena