Ireland recorded six points out of six in their Euro 2020 Qualifying Campaign as Mick McCarthy returned to the helm as Irish boss.
For the first time in many years, arguably since McCarthy’s last tenure, Ireland deployed a structured system that offered the perfect balance of a high pressed, energetic defence and a purposeful and more imaginative attack.
Among those to shine were Championship players including Enda Stevens, Conor Hourihane and the returning duo of David McGoldrick and Glenn Whelan.
What makes things more promising for Ireland is the amount of returning and additional players that were unavailable to McCarthy.
Although the team that defeated Georgia is unlikely to change too dramatically for the summer showdown with Denmark, McCarthy has never been afraid to chop and change which is a stark contrast to Giovanni Trappatoni and Martin O’Neill.
We examine players who will come into the fray in the summer who could fit into McCarthy’s interesting approach and potentially supplement the team with a further injection of quality.
And while it may not be wise to change a winning formula, some of these players may give Ireland an extra dynamic of quality and take some of the play to the next level, showing the squad is in a healthier place than first thought.
James McCarthy (Everton)
Having missed over a year with a leg break, James McCarthy was a surprise inclusion in namesake’s provisional Ireland squad. The Everton midfielder has been misused since making his debut nearly a decade ago with his best games in an Irish shirt coming in the anchor role.
Glenn Whelan gave a masterclass in the position proving that like McCarthy, the narrative around him could have been a lot different if he was deployed as a deep-lying sitter over the last decade.
At 35, Mick McCarthy cannot be reliant on Whelan despite the poise he showed against Georgia. The Aston Villa man could face into an extended league period with the playoffs and there will be a hope that fatigue will not be too much of an issue.
If James McCarthy gets more minutes under his belt, there is a chance that he could displace the impressive Whelan given the fact he is a more mobile and technical option as well as playing at a higher level. However, it is unlikely the duo will be paired.
Ciarán Clark (Newcastle United)
Another who has been unlucky with injury, Ciarán Clark is now Ireland’s most experienced available top-flight centre half. Shane Duffy has the centre half role nailed down with Richard Keogh, a consistent Ireland performer, offering leadership and physicality at the back.
Clark’s lack of game-time has counted against him despite captaining Ireland in Seamus Coleman’s absence in the World Cup playoffs.
However, the former Aston Villa man will be an attractive option to McCarthy as being a left-footer, he can offer fantastic natural balance beside Duffy or in a back three with Duffy and Keogh.
He formed a solid defensive partnership with Duffy in the World Cup Qualifiers and is a superior defender to John Egan and Kevin Long who may miss out as deputies when he returns.
Callum Robinson (Preston North End)
As possibly Ireland’s only bright spark of a dire 2018, it was disappointing that Callum Robinson missed out on last week’s double-header through injury.
The 24-year-old can operate across the front three which will suit McCarthy ideally. Perhaps Ireland’s best all-round available striker, he may be utilised in one of the wide areas given David McGoldrick’s competence as a centre forward.
The fact Robinson can use both feet and is lightning-quick makes James McClean and Robbie Brady’s starting places equally vulnerable although he has thrived more on the left. Has that bit of quality that the other strikers in the last squad lack and could end up being a pivotal player for McCarthy as the campaign progresses.
Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City)
Like Robinson, Callum O’Dowda is comfortable on the left or right of a front three in addition to the number 10 role. The Martin O’Neill favourite has been one of Ireland’s in-form players domestically this season and would have started if fit for the last round of games.
Technically brilliant and full of energy, the youngster will make James McClean very worried about his starting place in the squad.
There have however been concerns around the defensive side of his game which may deter McCarthy. The high pressing game deployed by the Irish manager requires a robust defensive effort from his wide men although, given O’Dowda’s quality, there is no doubt he will be able to adapt.
Danny Crowley (Willem II)
Danny Crowley made headlines last month after declaring for Ireland in the midst of Declan Rice swapping the opposite way. The attacking midfielder was once dubbed the next Jack Wilshere and will certainly offer Mick McCarthy a very different dynamic that is not available in the current squad.
Liked with Feyenoord and PSV earlier this week, Crowley represents a Wes Hoolahan type player that can run at players and also play precise passes in behind.
At just 21, Crowley is perhaps a more exciting prospect than many think and it was a shame his paperwork to switch eligibility had not been finalised in time for last week’s games. May not displace any starting midfielders but a terrific option off the bench.
Shane Long (Southampton)
An unpopular figure at present given his goal-scoring struggles but Shane Long could start banging them in again for Ireland under McCarthy’s new system.
Long has played a thankless role for Ireland over the last decade playing far more advanced than his midfield. Now that McCarthy has allowed Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick to push forward, Long will have more support with his hold up play and would be supplied with more service.
Despite being 32, he still has incredible pace and like some of the aforementioned, would be a terrific option to have coming off the bench. As Ireland’s top scorer in terms of active players, Long will hope to regain fitness and bag a few goals for Southampton to catch McCarthy’s eye.
Patrick Bamford (Leeds United)
It still remains a mystery to whether or not Patrick Bamford is on board but if he does declare for Ireland, he will represent a massive coup.
The Leeds man is a similar type of player to David McGoldrick but younger and arguably superior. He has quick feet, terrific finishing ability and is capable of holding onto the ball to link up players.
McCarthy’s system would suit Bamford who unlike the likes of Sean Maguire, can cope in the lone role and make things happen. It is worth remembering that Scott Hogan, like Bamford, wanted to take time out to focus on club issues given his injury problems.
As the international break is a good window of rehab, Bamford may be following a similar path to the Sheffield United striker before committing to this campaign.
Alan Browne (Preston North End)
To the dismay of many Irish fans, Alan Browne was ruled out of last week’s double-header through injury. The Cork man has had a terrific season with Preston, bagging 11 goals having transformed his game this season as a number 10.
Having struggled in an Irish shirt under Martin O’Neill, McCarthy’s high pressing game would make Browne the ideal candidate to serve as back-up in one of the advanced midfield roles, given his energy, bite in the tackle and goal threat.
Could very well be a Premier League player next season if Preston affirms their playoff spot or could at least attract interest from the top flight on the back of his superb season.
Michael Obafemi (Southampton)
Having made the headlines after his first Ireland cap in November, Michael Obafemi was ruled out for the rest of the season after bursting onto the scene with Southampton.
The pocket-sized yet powerful striker would prove an excellent option off the bench given his physicality and raw pace and will hope to come back into the Ireland fold in the summer.
The 18-year-old may be expected to report for Under-19 duty for the European Championships and will also be available to Stephen Kenny’s under-21 side next season.
Given the difficulty youngsters have breaking into the first teams of English clubs, Obefemi is proof that despite some tough years, Irish teenagers still have the potential to mix it with the best.
Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth)
Following a freak accident involving a door and a finger, Ronan Curtis was also ruled out of the last Ireland squad despite some promising performances this season.
Another capable of filling in across the front three, Curtis has been linked with Championship and Premier League sides off the back of some outstanding goals and demonstration of his terrific dribbling skill.
Was touted by Kenny Cunningham as a potential Irish starter and the Derryman could put himself back into the frame if he can regain his form on return from injury.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena