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Top 10 Players Most Likely To Break Into The Ireland Squad In 2017

BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 04: John Egan of Brentford applauds supporters during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Fulham at Griffin Park on November 4, 2016 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

With 2016 drawing to a close, a number of Irish players will be hoping to break into Martin O’Neill’s plans.

This time last year very few would have anticipated Shane Duffy becoming an automatic starter or Callum O’Dowda making the grade at senior level.

Here we take a look at some players hoping to establish themselves in the squad and those still hoping to break in.


1. Conor Hourihane (Barnsley)

One name constantly on the minds of Irish fans is Cork native Conor Hourihane. The highly rated midfielder has worked his way up from Plymouth in League Two to captain of Barnsley in the Championship.

Hourihane possesses the creative spark and calmness on the ball that Ireland sometimes miss. His sweet left foot has contributed to ten of Barnsley’s goals this season, including three of his own.

A move to the Premier League could be on the cards for the Bandon man, not to mention the potential of a regular Ireland place.


2. Liam Kelly (Reading)

21-year-old midfielder Kelly is one of the Championship’s most exciting young prospects. Having been given a run in the Reading side by Jaap Stam, the Irish under-21 star has caught the eye.

Capable of playing on the wing or behind a lone striker, Kelly’s playing style bears a striking resemblance to that of Andy Reid, and at 5’6″ is of similar stature.

A capable player from set-pieces, Kelly could be a man Martin O’Neill will consider giving a run, especially given that he qualifies for England.


3. Olamide Shodipo (Queens Park Rangers)

Olamide Shodipo might not be a name many Irish fans are familiar with. The man from Leixlip was a favourite of Jimmy-Floyde Hasseslbaink before his sacking by QPR, with Shodipo extremely impressive in his several starts under the Dutchman.

Unfortunately, Ian Holloway is not as big a fan, but given the Rs’ shocking form of late, the Kildare man could be the player to add a bit of spark to the team.

Having featured for the Irish under-21s earlier this year, Shodipo could provide the pace out wide that Ireland have lacked. Firstly, he must regain his place domestically.


4. John Egan (Brentford)

Like Hourihane, fellow Corkonian Egan will wonder what else he has to do to get into O’Neill’s plans. Egan has scored three goals this season since joining Brentford and has capped this with a number of impressive performances.

Egan was prolific at former club Gillingham scoring ten goals before departing for the Bees, showing glimpses of the goal threat Richard Dunne used to offer.

The son of Kerry football legend John Snr, Egan is a natural-born leader and could well be a future Ireland captain.


5. Alan Judge (Brentford)

Having won a long waited first cap against Switzerland last March, Judge looked set to travel to the Euros having scored 14 goals last season for Brentford, not to mention 12 assists. However, following a shocking tackle from Luke Hyam, Judge’s leg was broken and has been out ever since.

Due to return next month, Brentford’s talisman will no doubt get a run in the Irish team. Capable of playing on the wing and any attacking midfield position, Judge is possibly the natural successor to Wes Hoolahan.


6. Chris Forrester (Peterborough United)

Since leaving Richmond Park last year, Chris Forrester has seen a meteoric rise at the Posh. Forrester has been converted from a winger to a holding midfielder and has shown a tremendous ability to control games with poise and technical ability.

His leadership skills have also led to Grant McCann naming Forrester as captain of Peterborough having only joined the club a year previously. He received provisional call-ups for Ireland’s games against Switzerland and Slovakia but never made the final cut.

However, O’Neill has been monitoring the Smithfield native, who will certainly earn an Irish cap at some point.


7. Jack Byrne (Blackburn Rovers – on loan from Manchester City)

This time last year, Manchester City loanee Jack Byrne was an outsider for Ireland’s Euros squad. However, since joining Blackburn Rovers on loan in August, things have not quite gone to plan. Despite a hugely impressive start to the season, Owen Coyle has mysteriously outcasted the Dubliner, despite Rovers crying out for a player of his technical ability.

With Rovers struggling and Coyle’s job surely under threat, a change in management could see Byrne earn the game time he no doubt craves. Still considered one of Ireland’s greatest hopes, Byrne has an important role to play for Ireland’s Under-21s before making the grade at senior level.


8. Daryl Horgan (Preston NE)

Probably one of the players most deserving of an Irish cap on this list. Horgan showed that he could turn on the style on the European stage and was rewarded with an Ireland call-up against Austria. Although he did not feature, it is only a matter of time before the new Preston signing receives game time.

With in-form options out wide in short supply for Ireland, a decent run of games for Preston could propel Horgan into a starting position. There is no doubt he deserves it and having whet his appetite against internationals in the Europa League, the Galwegian will certainly consider himself more than capable of holding his own.


9. Matt Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

Having won Wolves Player of the Year for last season, former Bohemians full-back Doherty will hope to earn international honours in 2017. Capable of playing at either right or left-back, Doherty is a physical player who enjoys surging forward and has scored six league goals for Wolves since joining in 2010.

Doherty is unfortunate that Irish captain Seamus Coleman and the reliable Cyrus Christie are both ahead of him in the right-back pecking order. However, given Ireland’s lack of depth at left-back, it is a surprise that his services have not extended beyond inclusion in a provisional Irish squad.


10. Scott Hogan (Brentford)

Although Hogan has yet to indicate his definite international intentions, many Ireland fans would like to see the Championship’s third top scorer in green. Hogan is a quick and prolific striker with an eye for goal. He certainly is nowhere near the level of former Ireland captain Robbie Keane but a call-up would certainly soften the blow of Keane’s retirement.

O’Neill looks set to pursue Hogan before the home game against Wales in March but given the Brentford man’s reluctance to even discuss his international ambitions, it is hard to see a call-up anytime soon.


Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena

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Author: Nick Menezes

Nick is a soccer, GAA and rugby fanatic who has a worrying obsession with the Irish football team. His articles focus on Irish football and he also writes some light-hearted pieces, particularly quirky starting XIs.