With the countdown to the crunch tie with Wales well underway, we look at Ireland’s form team going into the Dublin clash.
It has been a good few months for Irish football. Some Irishmen are enjoying their most productive seasons to date, and there has been a surge in the amount of young Irish players coming through in the Championship.
This following team is very unlikely to take the pitch against the Welsh next month and probably does not represent Ireland’s best starting eleven. However, it is a pretty accurate indicator of who Ireland’s in form men are at the moment.
Goalkeeper: Darren Randolph
After a long and patient wait, Randolph is finally establishing himself as the Hammers’ number one. Despite a mixed season for the London club, Randolph has been one of their bright sparks and remains Ireland’s form keeper ahead of the Welsh game.
Kieran Westwood is still performing well for Sheffield Wednesday and in reality very little separates him and Randolph. However, the Bray man still edges the Owls stopper having been ever present for Ireland in the last 18 months or so. Rob Elliot has also returned from injury to take his place on the bench for Newcastle.
Right Back: Seamus Coleman
One of Ireland’s stand out performers of the last few months, Coleman has recovered well from injury to help jump-start the Toffee’s under Ronald Koeman.
One of the first men on the team sheet for Everton and Ireland, the Killybegs native will be hoping to take his club momentum into the tie with Wales and bid to stop Gareth Bale. Cyrus Christie has returned from injury but has been used sporadically by Derby but Matt Doherty is thriving under Paul Lambert and could be an option at both right and left back.
Centre Back: Shane Duffy
Duffy seems to have made the breakthrough under Martin O’Neill and could be on his way to Premier League football as his Brighton side pick up their promotion chase.
Having looked questionable in last few outings for Ireland, Duffy is getting more game time than Marc Wilson and John Egan who is currently out of the Brentford starting eleven. However, his strength will be essential in what will be a physical battle in Dublin. He will be full of confidence given his club’s form and will certainly be up for the test.
Centre Back: Ciaran Clark
Finally establishing himself as first-choice at international level, Clark’s game has also improved immensely under Rafa Benitez at Newcastle and could be another man destined for the Premier League next season.
Despite an own goal against QPR recently, the former Aston Villa man seems to be Ireland’s best option at the moment with Richard Keogh looking shaky for Derby and Paul McShane struggling at international level in the past. Another man who will be brimming with confidence given his club’s domestic fortunes.
Left Back: Stephen Ward
One of Ireland’s most improved players of the last couple of years, Ward will likely take the place of the suspended Robbie Brady at left back.
A regular with Burnley, Ward will be hard pressed by the impressive Greg Cunningham of Preston who is also enjoying a rich spell of form. However playing regularly and performing well domestically will put Ward ahead in the pecking order with very few top flight options available in the left back slot. Again, Doherty remains an option at left back but Ward’s form has been steady and impressive.
Right Wing: Daryl Horgan
Although it is highly unlikely the Galweigen will even receive game time against Wales, he has not only been one of Ireland’s form players of recent times but also over the last 18 months or so.
His heroics with Dundalk showed that he is capable of mixing it at the highest level with his place amongst the substitutes for November’s game against Austria showing Martin O’Neill’s trust in him. Possibly one of Ireland’s best available wingers at the moment, Horgan’s time will most likely come after next month’s crunch qualifier.
Central Midfield: Harry Arter
Arter has been in and out of the Bournemouth side in the last couple of weeks but has still impressed whenever on the pitch and has gained a substantial amount of starts since Christmas.
Some superb form over the last few months would see him take a spot over James McCarthy who has rediscovered some momentum recently. Having made his competitive debut against Austria, Arter showed that he is very capable at international level and is probably Ireland’s best midfield options at the moment.
Glenn Whelan is playing regularly for Stoke but has been guilty of some sloppy performances in recent weeks for the Potters, giving Arter the edge.
Central Midfield: Conor Hourihane
Hourihane is one of Ireland’s domestic players of the season with eleven assists in the Championship. A debut against the Welsh is unlikely and despite a difficult start at Aston Villa, the Cork man is in great form.
As already mentioned, James McCarthy is gathering momentum at Everon and Jeff Hendrick is a regular starter for Burnley.
However, Hendrick is currently serving a ban at the moment and has been inconsistent for the clarets. Ryan Manning is one of the form Irish players in the Championship and could push for an inclusion in the provisional squad. A game of such importance may have come too soon for the Galway man who will no doubt feature in the near future if his form continues.
Left Wing: Aiden McGeady
Probably an unpopular pick but an accurate one. James McClean will no doubt take his place on the left wing and has been Ireland’s key player in this campaign.
However, when it comes down to form, McGeady is currently faring better than McClean who has been dropped by West Brom.
After two wonder goals last week to add to his seven assists this season and impressive showings since Christmas, McGeady could feature at some stage off the bench against Wales. Anthony Pilkington was enjoying an impressive spell at Cardiff recently before succumbing to yet another injury. He too is a very good option for O’Neill that many have forgotten about.
Attacking Midfield: Liam Kelly
Again another man who is unlikely to play but with form taken into account Kelly is one of the standout Irishmen at the moment.
Wes Hoolahan could be a pivotal figure against Wales and scored a wonder goal last weekend against Nottingham Forest. Unfortunately for Hoolahan, he has been in and out of the Norwich team but rarely disappoints when picked and seems to always come up with the goods for Ireland. However, Kelly has been a revelation for Reading this season showing shades of Hoolahan in his game, a regular under the promotion chasers, Kelly is more likely to feature for Noel Kings under-21 side.
Striker: Shane Long
Daryl Murphy has enjoyed some game time since Christmas at Newcastle and Adam Rooney has scored six goals since the festive period, but Shane Long’s performances for Southampton have been extremely impressive of late.
A modern hard working and energetic striker, Long has proven to be a key player for Southampton recently and the usual handful for opposition defenders. Despite Ireland lacking any outstanding goal scorers, Long will be full of confidence going into the game against the Welsh with four goals since the New Year.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena