It seems a running trend in Irish football that arguably one of the most inform or high profile players is missing in action, either through self-exile or tactical exclusion.
Here we look at five of the best Republic of Ireland players who were absent from the national team when they were at their peak of their powers.
1) Roy Keane
A different kettle of fish to the other players on this list but still worth a mention. With no introduction needed, Keane was at the peak of his powers when things went pear-shaped in Saipan.
Just three years after captaining Manchester United to their historic treble, the then 31-year-old was coming off the back of a colossal effort in the 2002 qualifying campaign.
The famous bust-up with Mick McCarthy divided a nation and effectively resulted in Keane announcing his retirement in 2003. This meant he missed out on an assault on a very winnable Euro 2004 qualifying group in which the Irish lost out to a mediocre Switzerland side and Russia.
However, prior to the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign, the former Irish skipper came out of retirement with Brian Kerr’s side ultimately coming up short after losing momentum at the latter stages of the campaign.
2) Stephen Ireland
Another Corkman and another regretful international career. Steve Staunton introduced the then Manchester City youngster into the fold during his ill-fated managerial stint.
Ireland was one of his country’s most talented young players and was catching the eye both in the Premier League and in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, nabbing 4 goals in just 6 international caps.
However, ‘granny-gate’ ensued, ending Ireland’s promising international career. After Staunton’s sacking, Ireland hit the form of his life for City, prompting calls for Giovanni Trapattoni to lure the gifted midfielder back into the fold.
However, after a disastrous meeting in which ‘Trap’ spent more time on his phone than speaking to Ireland, he opted out.
He seemingly declared himself available in 2013 when Martin O’Neill took charge but the ship had sailed at that point.
3) Andy Reid
Another player who should have been key during the Trapattoni regime. Andy Reid made a swift exit from Ireland duty having been involved in some guitar playing antics in Mainz in 2008.
The technically gifted midfielder had been overlooked in favour of Glenn Whelan with a more conservative approach deployed by Trap and following the sing-song, he was dropped from the squad altogether.
His exile was concurrent with some of the best form of Reid’s career at Sunderland. He even tried to prove Trap’s view of his playing style wrong by adopting a more defensive and pressing dynamic to his game, combined with his terrific ball retention and passing range, something Ireland always lacked under the Italian.
Reid made a comeback in 2013 in the first squad after Trapattoni’s sacking, playing a blinder in a dead rubber against Kazakhstan before injuries took their toll.
4) Wes Hoolahan
Given Wes Hoolahan’s consistency domestically, it is a mystery that his first cap came at 26 and his second came at 30.
Amazingly, the ex-Norwich man went on to earn 43 caps, netting 3 times for his country. However, in between this impressive total was a number of what ifs.
Like Andy Reid, Hoolahan suffered from Giovanni Trapattoni’s reluctance to play with a number ten although Hoolahan did start an international as a holding midfielder against the Faroe Islands in 2013.
The start of Martin O’Neill’s reign saw a more progressive approach which seemed to only last until Euro 2016. After that, the Derryman showed concerns over Hoolahan’s age despite the Dubliner playing week in week out at club level, staying very fit and out-performing some of his younger international teammates.
Ireland always looked a better team with ‘Wessi’ in the starting XI but a fear to let the shackles off from Ireland’s two previous managers will keep fans wondering if he could have added a more consistent attacking dynamic to the national team.
5) Matt Doherty
Unlike the aforementioned players, Matt Doherty has suffered from playing in the same position as one of the best Premier League right-backs of the past decade in Seamus Coleman.
The Ireland skipper has restricted Doherty to just one start since Mick McCarthy took over, much to the dismay of Ireland fans.
Having thrived as a wingback at expansive Wolves, the 27-year-old Dubliner struggled on the right-wing against Gibraltar, albeit in horrendous conditions.
Given the fact that Doherty was arguably one of the best defenders in the Premier League this season, it is disappointing that he cannot be accommodated, considering McCarthy managed to accommodate Gary Kelly and Steven Finnan in similar circumstances
With James McClean’s consistently poor performances, McCarthy may choose to start Doherty and move either Callum Robinson or Robbie Brady onto the left, however, after his comments earlier in the week, accommodating Doherty does not seem to be high on the agenda.
*Originally published on June 12, 2020.
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