Mick McCarthy’s Ireland begin their preparations this week ahead of Thursday’s crucial Euro 2020 qualifier against Switzerland as they look to gain a foothold in what’s proven to be a competitive group so far.
McCarthy finalised his 25-man squad last week but it has since been reshuffled with a number of injuries occurring over the weekend with the likes of Matt Doherty, James McCarthy and Sean Maguire dropping out.
There are 24 players now in contention to make the starting XI for Thursday night’s game in what will unquestionably be the toughest test of McCarthy’s short reign so far.
But how will the Boys in Green setup for the crucial clash?
First, let’s take a look at the squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough), Mark Travers (Bournemouth), Kieran O’Hara (Burton Albion – on loan from Manchester United)
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Shane Duffy (Brighton & Hove Albion), Richard Keogh (Derby County), John Egan (Sheffield United), Kevin Long (Burnley), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United)
Midfielders: Alan Judge (Ipswich Town), Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Glenn Whelan (Hearts), Josh Cullen (Charlton Athletic – on loan from West Ham United), James McClean (Stoke City), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth)
Forwards: Callum Robinson (Sheffield United), James Collins (Luton Town), Scott Hogan (Stoke City – on loan from Aston Villa), David McGoldrick (Sheffield United)
Goalkeeper – Darren Randolph
Bournemouth’s Mark Travers may have impressed in the Carabao Cup midweek but his lack of Premier League game time at the Vitality will likely mean that he’ll have to settle for the back-up goalkeeping spot.
Darren Randolph has been McCarthy’s number one and will remain so despite Middlesbrough’s inconsistent start to the season.
The 32-year-old has been a fantastic servant for Ireland and has recently become one of the most important players in the XI – with his crucial save away to Gibraltar springing to mind.
Expect the Boro man between the sticks on Thursday night.
Defence: Enda Stevens, Shane Duffy, Richard Keogh, Seamus Coleman
At left-back, Enda Stevens is a lock and has taken brilliantly to life back in the Premier League with Sheffield United, which he can hopefully translate to the international stage.
Shane Duffy missed Brighton’s game against Manchester City at the weekend with a small knock but was kept in the squad by McCarthy which is a strong indication that he’s fit.
The 27-year-old is probably the first name on the Irish team sheet at this stage.
Next to Duffy, it’s likely that McCarthy goes with the tried and tested Richard Keogh, given the fact that the pair have been his preferred centre-back partnership since his return.
John Egan is in contention to start having also impressed as a Premier League regular now, but if it ain’t broke in the Irish manager’s eyes, he probably won’t fix it.
Matt Doherty’s injury now means that the right-back debate essentially settles itself, with captain Seamus Coleman a shoo-in to start.
Midfield: Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane, Jeff Hendrick
Glenn Whelan has done quite well in McCarthy’s holding role ahead of the defence but could find it tough against the Swiss midfield, however, James McCarthy dropping out of the squad means that the 36-year-old is essentially the only natural option in that position.
Neither Conor Hourihane nor Jeff Hendrick are starting for Aston Villa and Burnley respectively but it’s difficult to see McCarthy straying away from either despite his “players must be playing” philosophy.
Hourihane has been strong for the Boys in Green since McCarthy took over and the Irish boss is a huge fan of Hendrick regardless of his lack of time at club level.
Alan Browne has broken back into the Preston starting XI but is inexperienced at international level, as is Josh Cullen who has taken to life in the Championship excellently at Charlton.
Jack Byrne is another option given his sparkling form for Shamrock Rovers, but it’s highly unlikely that McCarthy will put his faith in him for such a massive game.
Attack: Ronan Curtis, David McGoldrick, Callum Robinson
Although yet to find the scoresheet for the Boys in Green, David McGoldrick has been strong as the number nine since breaking into the squad and has also featured frequently for Sheffield United in the Premier League.
The 32-year-old should be given the nod over both Stoke City’s Scott Hogan and Luton Town’s James Collins in the race for the central striker position.
McGoldrick’s club-mate Callum Robinson is a guaranteed starter on the right of the front three, (a formation we assume McCarthy goes with) and the 24-year-old will be full of confidence after opening his Premier League account against Chelsea last weekend.
The left-wing may be a spot for McCarthy to add a spark, with James McClean a candidate to drop out given his disappointing displays for Ireland of late.
Callum O’Dowda is a contender for the position but he has only started once for Bristol City this season, while Ipswich’s Alan Judge has been in and out of their starting XI.
Portsmouth’s Ronan Curtis could see his consistent run of game time rewarded with a first start in green despite his start to the season being a little quieter than last year’s.
Predicted Ireland Starting XI vs Switzerland