With all the 32 World Cup squads now finalised, it is hard not to think of what the Ireland squad would have been like if the Boys in Green progressed to the finals in Russia.
It may be a case that we need to move on from the playoff heartache but Martin O’Neill’s potential side will be on the minds of many after the remaining squads were finalised on Monday and is worth discussion.
What makes this even more interesting is the fact that had Ireland progressed to their first World Cup in 16 years, they would not have been able to call on their full compliment of players due to injuries.
O’Neill would have faced a challenging pick given those injuries and the fact that this has been one of the poorest domestic seasons for a pool of Irish players in a long time. However, some individuals have emerged in the past few months that could have forced their way into the side in addition to the retirees who would have stayed on.
Despite some players struggling for game time, O’Neill may have stayed loyal to some of the players that performed throughout the qualifiers or the experienced heads in the group. He may have also gone with some in-form players or others who had a rapid rise such as Declan Rice. We weigh up what would have been available to the Irish supremo and select a squad that could have gone to Russia.
Already, the goalkeeping situation could have been a serious dilemma for O’Neill. Darren Randolph’s recent surgery shows that he would have been playing through the pain in Russia with understudies Kieran Westwood and Rob Elliot unlikely to have travelled given their long term injuries.
This would have left O’Neill’s realistic options being Colin Doyle, Ian Lawlor and U-21 keeper Kieran O’Hara in the frame with Conor O’Malley, Aaron McCarey, Brian Murphy and at a long shot, David Forde, the only other options. O’Hara could have travelled given his form for the U-21’s and the fact that he is so highly rated.
2018 will see three Irish right backs in the Premier League with Seamus Coleman joined by Matt Doherty and Cyrus Christie in the top flight.Stephen Ward has had a solid season with Burnley despite costing Ireland two goals in the Danish tie. John O’Shea’s experience would have been crucial with Shane Duffy also a guaranteed place.
Ciaran Clark would have just returned to fitness to do battle with Kevin Long, Richard Keogh and the highly rated Declan Rice. Greg Cunningham and Enda Stevens could have been other left back options but not Robbie Brady, who has had some fine games at left back for Ireland, would have missed out through injury.
O’Neill probably would have gone for a tried and trusted midfield with the experienced Glenn Whelan, Wes Hoolahan and David Meyler shoe ins. Despite a poor season, Aiden McGeady could have been brought given his experience and could have travelled along with fellow wingers James McClean and Callum O’Dowda.
Harry Arter and Jeff Hendrick would have likely travelled with Alan Browne not far off given his fantastic domestic season. Conor Hourihane’s 11 league goals probably would have seen him pip Eunan O’Kane.
While Daryl Horgan and Alan Judge’s lack of game time likely to have counted against them. James McCarthy has just returned to training but would have been unlikely to have been ready for Russia.
This would have been another tough call for O’Neill and whether to bring four or five strikers. The realistic pool would have been from Shane Long, Jon Walters, Sean Maguire, Scott Hogan and the now retired Daryl Murphy.
Graham Burke who scored his first international goal could have been an outside bet with granny rule options Callum Robinson, Will Keane and Patrick Bamford others who even in reality could not line out for the summer ties with the exception of Robinson against Celtic.
Ireland’s what could have been squad for the 2018 World Cup
1. Kieran O’Hara (Manchester United)
2. Seamus Coleman-Captain (Everton)
3. Stephen Ward (Burnley FC)
4. John O’Shea-Vice Captain (Sunderland)
5. Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United)
6. Glenn Whelan (Aston Villa)
7. Aiden McGeady (Sunderland)
8. Harry Arter (AFC Bournemouth)
9. Shane Long (Southampton)
10. Sean Maguire (Preston North End)
11. James McClean (West Bromwich Albion)
12. Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa)
13. Jeff Hendrick (Burnley FC)
14. Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)
15. Declan Rice (West Ham United)
16. Colin Doyle (Bradford FC)
17. Daryl Murphy (Nottingham Forest)
18. David Meyler (Hull City)
19. Jonathan Walters (Burnley FC)
20. Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion)
21. Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City)
22. Cyrus Christie (Fulham FC)
23. Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough FC)
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena