Wes Hoolahan’s retirement from international football brought the end to the career of one of Ireland’s most technically gifted players in recent years.
Hoolahan proved the theory that if his country could play with a completely different dynamic if their most technically adept players were fielded.
This was neglected by Giovanni Trappatoni and has certainly been at times by Martin O’Neill with both managers preferring an attritional approach.
However, O’Neill has promised changes in 2018 with an injection of youth expected in what is a transitional period for the Irish.
The Derryman has plenty of players available to him that could fill the void left by Hoolahan.
In recent months, the Ireland supremo has suggested the likes of Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick could step into the number 10 role.
However, Hourihane thrives more in a deeper box-to-box role and Hendrick is not exactly the most productive in possession.
The Burnley man has done superbly in the more advanced role for his club but in more of a driving force rather than a technical creator.
Thankfully, there is still an array of attacking midfielders for O’Neill to choose from to step in for Hoolahan.
Ryan Manning, Richie Towell, Connor Ronan and Samir Carruthers have dropped further from the peripheries but could come into the reckoning in the next couple of years with the likes of Danny Crowley possibly no longer a realistic option.
Some players in the squad could already replace Hoolahan with Daryl Horgan, David McGoldrick, Harry Arter, Eunan O’Kane and Aiden McGeady having all played in the number ten role at some stage of their career.
Josh Cullen at West Ham is another option but looks more comfortable in a holding role. We take a look at five others who could prove to be the ideal replacements for the ‘Irish Messi’
Alan Judge (Brentford)
Possibly the most like-for-like replacement to Hoolahan and will come back into the reckoning following a long-term injury that robbed him of a Euro 2016 spot.
A dynamic player, who can run at defences as well as create and like Hoolahan, Judge stands at just 5’6. He could be a late but successful bloomer to the international stage, just like the Norwich man.
Liam Kelly (Reading)
Unfortunate not to be playing Premier League football after Reading’s promotion push last season, Kelly is another pocket-sized midfielder full of creativity.
A sturdier option to Hoolahan and, at only 22, has a long international future ahead of him and is arguably already good enough.
Excellent from set pieces and can play across the midfield.
James Maddison (Norwich City)
A very sought-after player on the domestic front and could also be in demand internationally.
Hoolahan’s clubmate Maddison qualifies for Ireland through the Granny Rule and has been one of the Championships standout players this season.
A set-piece specialist and old-school number 10, Hoolahan could be having a quiet word with the 21-year-old about a potential career in green.
Alan Browne (Preston North End)
One of the first of the strong Irish contingent at Preston, Browne has recently been converted from a holding to an attacking midfielder.
Possibly not as easy on the eye than the others mentioned, Browne can run at players and has plenty of physicality and goal-scoring ability.
He seems to be improving with every game for Preston and could add to his two Ireland caps.
Jack Byrne (Oldham Athletic)
Possibly the least likely on the list to feature anytime soon, but there is still great hope for the Dubliner.
Secured a permanent move to Oldham following four goals in 17 loan appearances.
He looked the most natural long-term replacement for Hoolahan but is struggling to fully recapture his form on loan at Cambuur in Holland.
Still undoubtedly a huge talent, Byrne could come into the reckoning in the next couple of years with some hard work.
(3.17 on the video)
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena