Ireland take on Mexico in New Jersey in just a few short days and Martin O’Neill named a condensed 19-man squad for the stateside visit.
The squad consists mainly of Ireland’s Championship contingent with the exception of Darren Randolph and James McClean who were added to the squad following the Fota Island training camp. Mexico will bring an experienced side and Ireland will be reluctant to enter the World Cup qualifier with a string of losses.
Although it is a time for experimentation and giving players some game time, it is important that it is a a solid selection allowing for the balance of blooding talent and securing a result as ranking points are still up for grabs not to mention morale.
Goalkeeper: Darren Randolph
Although Colin Doyle is coming off an impressive season with Bradford, Randolph is Ireland’s number one and will be thirsty for game time. The Bray man was dropped by Slavan Bilic after several poor displays for West Ham. However, having only conceded three goals in qualifying, Mexico is the perfect opportunity for Randolph to get back into the swing of things with the possibility of Doyle featuring off the bench at the stadium he made his international debut in 10 years ago.
Right Back: Cyrus Christie
The man most likely to temporarily fill the boots of Seamus Coleman, Cyrus Christie is another who should gather some momentum before the visit of Austria. The only natural right back in the squad, Christie has impressed for Ireland and showed against world champions Germany that he can raise his game in the absence of Ireland’s captain.
Christie is continuing to improve at Derby and had one of the highest chances created statistics for a defender in the Championship this season.
Centre Back: Shane Duffy
Having missed nearly three months following surgery, the soon to be Premier League defender Shane Duffy will hope to put the finishing touches on his recovery in the upcoming friendlies. Having firmly established himself in O’Neill’s plans prior to his injury, Duffy will want to see out the qualifying campaign that he has been a crucial part of. He will be missing his regular partner Ciaran Clark and will hope to show prove his fitness before the Austria game.
Centre Back: John Egan
O’Neill will most likely go with Richard Keogh or Alex Pearce but Egan deserves another chance to show his worth. He struggled against Iceland in what looked like a tough adjustment, but is certainly a better player than what was suggested in the dour friendly. Has gained huge praise from Brentford manager Dean Smith in recent weeks and despite being in and out of the team this season, has a huge amount to offer club and country with his fearless defending and leadership.
Left Back: Andy Boyle
With no natural left-back in the squad, left-footed defender Boyle looks the most likely to stand in for Stephen Ward. James McClean would be the other only thinkable alternative or else Cyrus Christie with eithher John Egan or Richard Keogh at right back. Three at the back would be the other alternative with either McClean or O’Dowda at left-wing-back. Should Boyle start, it will be off a strong finish for Preston where he established himself as a starter and looked comfortable in his cameo against Iceland.
Right Wing: Daryl Horgan
Looked the real deal against Iceland with a number of impressive runs off the bench. Could be utilised as an impact sub for the rest of the campaign but should be given his first start against the Mexicans. Like Boyle, Horgan has taken to English football like a duck to water with many feeling caps should have come sooner for the Galweigen. A strong performance in the two friendlies could push Horgan towards a starting place, especially given Ireland’s lack of creativity in the qualifiers so far.
Centre Midfield: Eunan O’Kane
Another of the few to impress against Iceland. O’Kane has made an impact off the bench whenever called upon by O’Neill and is the kind of positive player Ireland crave. Comfortable on the ball, a tough tackler and not afraid to make nippy runs, the Leeds man is another pushing for a start against Austria should he make an impression over the next two games. Alan Browne is another option and will probably win hist first cap off the bench in New Jersey.
Centre Midfield: Conor Hourihane
A tight call between the Corkman and Stephen Gleeson. Gleeson did not look phased against Iceland and was extremely comfortable on the ball. Hourihane on the other hand struggled but was not helped by the anonymity of his partner for the game Jeff Hendrick. Hourihane had 14 assists in the Championship this season which is outstanding for a player experiencing that level for the first time. Like Egan, deserves another chance to demonstrate his talent and should be given the opportunity to stand over the set pieces in New Jersey.
Left Midfield: James McClean
The second Premier League player in the side, McClean could captain his country against the Mexicans. As mentioned, McClean could bizarrely take the left back slot, a position he filled in for in the middle of games at the start of the O’Neill era, the last time coming against Costa Rica in the second half.
This seems extremely unlikely but would free up the opportunity for Callum O’Dowda to step in. McClean was in and out of the West Brom side towards the end of the season and could also do with a full 90 minutes under his belt before the Austria clash.
Attacking Midfield: Wes Hoolahan
A huge loss against Wales, Hoolahan represents Ireland most creative outlet and should be allowed to pull the strings against Mexico. O’Kane could start in this more advanced role with Browne or Gleeson coming in but O’Neill will be eager to cast his eye over the 35-year-old who finished the season exceptionally with Norwich. Reading talented midfielder Liam Kelly will be breathing down Hoolahan’s neck in the coming months but the veteran should still be one of the first names on O’Neill’s team sheet.
Striker: David McGoldrick
O’Neill will probably prefer Daryl Murphy as a lone striker but McGoldrick has yet to be given a fair chance in the more advanced role. Used in the number 10 role in the majority of his Irish caps so far, McGoldrick could again take his place behind former Ipswich teammate Murphy. However McGoldrick is a good finisher and smart footballer and should at least be given the opportunity to demonstrate himself as a striking option. Coming off the back of a poor season in which he was injured at parts, O’Neill will hope McGoldrick or Murphy will justify the exclusion of Sean Maguire and Cillian Sheridan.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena