Ireland enter tonight’s game against Wales with a somewhat depleted squad but also a collection of fine in form individuals.
Aiden McGeady has been grabbing headlines of late while James McClean has starred so far in this qualifying campaign. However two of Ireland’s best players domestically this season remain uncapped. Conor Hourihane has managed 13 assists and 7 goals this season while Daryl Horgan has starred for Dundalk and Preston showing fearlessness and technical ability.
However both remain uncapped despite the tremendous impact both could have on the Irish team. Of the trimmed squad announced by O’Neill on Monday, four are uncapped while a further six have yet to get into double figures on the caps count.
O’Neill can ultimately call on an experienced starting side against Wales but the likes of Hourihane and Horgan could add the unpredictability factor and real quality. Hourihane is a classic box-to-box midfielder, a dying breed.
Although workmanlike, he has a sweet left foot and his athleticism allows him to get up and down the pitch rapidly. His leadership qualities are also a major feature of his game meaning that he is an experienced and calm head, no mater what the occasion.
Horgan has arguably been one of the most talked about Irishmen of the past 18 months. With exceptional ball control, vision and finesse, the Galway man was hardly phased on the European stage and was one of the best players on the pitch in both of Dundalk’s ties against Zenit. He would thrive in a packed Aviva that would relish seeing him on the team sheet.
In fact, of all the inexperienced players in the squad, this duo could be the best equipped to be thrust into the action given these qualities. Both are professional and will give their all if tasked with taking on Gareth Bale and Co. They are two players riding high on confidence given their form and could cause the Welsh a lot of problems.
John Egan and Andy Boyle are two more uncapped players who could be thrust into the action should O’Neill decide against fielding Richard Keogh. Boyle, like Horgan has taken like a duck to water at Preston. Egan has been extremely impressive for Brentford this season but has been in and out of the side of late. Realistically O’Neill will go with Paul McShane or Alex Pearce before the two uncapped defenders.
Although club and international tactics and instruction vary, it is worth noting that Horgan took on Wales’ first choice right back Christ Gunter two weeks ago as Preston faced Reading. Horgan and Aiden McGeady both interchanged numerous times during the game with both turning Gunter inside out on several occasions, Horgan scored in the game as Preston won 3-0 with Boyle contributing to a clean sheet.
Despite competitive debuts being a rarity under O’Neill, Irish fans just have to cast their memories back to 2006 when Paul McShane starred for Ireland against the Czech Republic. Although having not even played 50 first team games and being a passionate but limited player, the then West Brom defender rose to the occasion playing in the Green jersey.
However, McShane’s first cap can also be a prime example of why not to field debutantes in key matches. He was responsible for allowing Jan Koller to slip in ahead of him to score an immediate equaliser just after Kevin Kilbane broke the deadlock but the scoreline could have been a lot greater without the then inexperienced 20-year-old’s contributions.
No mater what the lineup tonight, O’Neill will set up a side best equipped for dealing with Wales. Should he pick on form, it could see the two debuts but in a high stakes games he will most likely go for the tried and tested. However, a cameo from either Hourihane or Horgan may not be completely out of the question. Both have the ability to impact the tie but tonight may have come a bit too soon.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena