Had things been different, Friday June 12th would have been the start of Euro 2020, with Italy taking on Turkey in the tournament’s opening game.
Instead we must wait another year for the tournament, with UEFA postponing it until the summer of 2021 due to the Covid- 19 crisis.
Ireland still face the challenge of a playoff against both Slovakia and the winner of Northern Ireland and Bosnia (provided they beat Slovakia) but should they qualify, how would the Boys in Green lineup in their opener?
Here we take a look at the starting XI we believe Stephen Kenny will select should Ireland reach next summer’s tournament.
Goalkeeper – Darren Randolph
Barring an injury it’s unlikely that any of Ireland’s back-up or current U21 keepers usurp long-time number one Darren Randolph by the time June 2021 comes around.
Being second-choice at West Ham is not ideal, but Randolph has been exceptional when playing for his country especially over the past couple of years and has been a vital reason why Ireland have one of the best defences in all of Europe.
Expect Randolph to be a feature between the sticks for the foreseeable future.
Defence – Matt Doherty, John Egan, Shane Duffy, Enda Stevens
Three at the back may suit a lot of Ireland’s defensive options but Kenny is unlikely to stray from a steady four he is used to.
The new Irish boss has mentioned his excitement at getting to work with John Egan who could become a vital player under Kenny along with his Sheffield United teammate Enda Stevens both of whom will hopefully have a season playing in Europe under their belts before next summer comes.
Shane Duffy had been in and out of the starting XI at Brighton and it’s difficult to know were his future lies at club level however, like Randolph, he has been one of Ireland’s standout players over the past couple of years and is likely to keep his place – despite competition from up and comers like Dara O’Shea and Nathan Collins.
Kenny will have to address the Seamus Coleman/Matt Doherty dilemma at right-back and although he may try to weave both into his side initially, we believe the Wolves man will be first choice come June 2021.
Midfield – Jeff Hendrick, Jayson Molumby, James McCarthy
Kenny has key decisions to make in midfield when he takes over the Irish job and one of them may be convincing Crystal Palace midfielder James McCarthy to return to the fold.
Glenn Whelan has been a fantastic servant to Ireland but will likely be retired at international level by next summer, with McCarthy the ideal option to replace him in the holding midfield role – provided he stays fit.
Many have talked up Brighton’s Jayson Molumby as Whelan’s successor but he operates better in a number eight role making him the perfect partner alongside McCarthy.
Jeff Hendrick is also included and has all the talents to flourish under the new Irish boss, and in this trio will have a licence to support the attacking three, something he should relish.
Attack – Aaron Connolly, Shane Long, Robbie Brady
It’s difficult to gauge how far along strikers like Adam Idah and Troy Parrott will be in their development by the time the Euros come along. They’ll almost certainly be in the squad, but will they be ready to start in a major tournament?
Shane Long has found his feet again at club level with Southampton and is a number nine in the mould that Kenny traditionally likes, even if he may not be as natural a goalscorer as the likes of an Idah or a Parrott.
Aaron Connolly is likely to be given more of a chance at Brighton next season and has impressed enough already to push for inclusion in the games scheduled for the end of 2020, with his pace a huge asset to any side.
Robbie Brady on the right is also included, with Kenny earmarking him as a player he was looking forward to working with, while his deliveries cutting in on his left foot, could be of huge benefit to both Long and Connolly.
The Burnley man’s set-pieces could also be key for Kenny’s side.