Mick McCarthy will take charge of his first Irish game for 17 years on Saturday when the Boys in Green take on Gibraltar in their Euro 2020 opener.
The Irish boss has finalised his 23-man squad for the games against Gibraltar first, away from home, and Georgia at the Aviva Stadium three days later.
The likes of Alan Browne, Ronan Curtis, Callum O’Dowda and Shane Long have all dropped out through injury, with Josh Cullen, Jack Byrne, Aiden O’Brien and Kevin Long all being drafted in as replacements.
Assuming that no further injuries occur this is the squad of 23 that McCarthy has to choose from;
Republic of Ireland Squad
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Mark Travers (Bournemouth)
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Richard Keogh (Derby County), John Egan (Sheffield United), Shane Duffy (Brighton & Hove Albion), Kevin Long (Burnley), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United)
Midfielders: Alan Judge (Ipswich Town), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Harry Arter (Cardiff City*), Glenn Whelan (Aston Villa), Robbie Brady (Burnley), Josh Cullen (Charlton Athletic*), Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers), James McClean (Stoke City)
Forwards: Aiden O’Brien (Millwall), Sean Maguire (Preston North End), David McGoldrick (Sheffield United), James Collins (Luton Town)
With that in mind let’s take a look at the starting XI we here at Pundit Arena feel McCarthy will go with for the game against Gibraltar.
As impressive as Kieren Westwood has been as of late for Sheffield Wednesday, Darren Randolph is a shoo-in to retain his number one shirt.
The Middlesbrough man is having a great season at club level and was one of Ireland’s better players in what was an abysmal 2018.
Starting with the three centre-backs, Brighton’s Shane Duffy is arguably the first name on the teamsheet, following the big defender’s standout season.
Duffy was also awarded the FAI Player of the Year for the second season in a row thanks to his solid displays in a difficult year under Martin O’Neill.
To the left of him is John Egan. The Sheffield United man is currently on a run of eight clean sheets in a row and looks to have played his way ahead of Richard Keogh in the pecking order.
The third centre-half comes in the form of captain Seamus Coleman, in a new position at international level for the Everton man.
Coleman is too valuable to drop but given Matt Doherty’s form and McCarthy apparently viewing him as a right-back/right wing-back, it’s unlikely that he gets in there ahead of the Wolves man.
The Irish captain could be used in a similar fashion to the way Kyle Walker plays in a back-three for England.
The wing-backs really pick themselves with Matt Doherty, the most in-form Irish player in the Premier League this season with Wolves, on the right-side and Sheffield United’s Enda Stevens on the left.
McCarthy has brought Aston Villa’s Glenn Whelan back from apparent international retirement and given the lack of pure holding midfielders in the squad, it’s highly likely that he gives him a start against Gibraltar.
His Villa teammate Conor Hourihane is also a contender in the midfield given the tremendous season he’s had but it’s important that McCarthy plays him more central as opposed to holding. He’s also at an advantage given his partnership with Whelan at club level.
The third midfielder is a little tougher to choose but given Jeff Hendrick is starting week in and week out for Burnley, he may get the nod ahead of a less attacking player like Harry Arter or a midfielder playing at a lower level like Josh Cullen.
Finally comes the front two, with Sean Maguire in line for a start given his fitness and return to goalscoring form with Preston. McCarthy is fond of James Collins but given his lack of international experience, it’s unlikely that he starts him.
David McGoldrick’s form and experience under McCarthy should be enough to give him a starting berth just behind the Preston man in the front two.