It is a new era for the Republic of Ireland team.
Stephen Kenny is now the senior Ireland manager and will, hopefully, implement a progressive, more modern, style of play.
After over 30 years of playing in a direct, traditional British way, which has often brought success, Ireland are looking to forge a new identity under Kenny.
Yet, for the immediate future, it will be a case of evolution rather than revolution for the national team.
The former Dundalk coach must also achieve positive results, starting with the Uefa Nations League game against Bulgaria on Thursday evening in Sofia.
Ireland take on the team ranked 59th in the world and will hope to get their Nations League campaign underway with a win. Kenny’s team then face Finland in Dublin three days later.
Here is the XI we think Ireland should play in their opening game, lining out in a 3-5-2 formation.
Darren Randolph starts in goal. The West Ham United ‘keeper is not first-choice at club level. But he has arguably been Ireland’s most consistent player over the last few years.
For this team, we have opted for a back-three of John Egan, Shane Duffy and Dara O’Shea.
Egan and Duffy are automatic picks. Duffy has been Ireland’s main central defender since Euro 2016. While Egan is in the form of his life after a brilliant campaign with Sheffield United in the Premier League.
O’Shea starts alongside them for a few reasons. Firstly, the 21-year-old Dubliner is a future Ireland star and fully warranted his inclusion in the squad.
O’Shea had a great season for West Bromwich Albion last year, starting 21 games and scoring three goals as Slaven Bilic’s side secured promotion from the Championship. He has the ability to thrive at international level.
Also, while it may seem like a defensive move to include three central defenders, it offers Ireland a greater threat at set-pieces. Duffy has scored six goals over the last two seasons, Egan scored two goals in the Premier League last year and O’Shea has shown his eye for goal at West Brom.
Deploying a back-three also enables Kenny to use two of his most in-form players in their best positions. Enda Stevens and Matt Doherty are two of the best wing-backs in the Premier League.
Stevens was consistently excellent for Sheffield United last season, scoring twice and setting up four goals as the Blades took the Premier League by surprise.
The Dubliner has established himself as Ireland’s first-choice at left-back and would thrive at international level in a wing-back position.
— ⚔ Blades1889 ⚔ (@Blades1889_com) August 31, 2020
Doherty, meanwhile, has joined Tottenham Hotspur thanks to his excellent form for Wolverhampton Wanderers. The 28-year-old scored six goals and registered four assists last season.
He times his runs into the opposition penalty area like a striker and it would be great to see if he can replicate his form at international level.
Seamus Coleman may be the Ireland captain, but Doherty’s time to be first-choice at right-back, or wing-back, has come.
In midfield, we have selected James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane (or Jayson Molumby).
McCarthy looks certain to start against Bulgaria, and rightly so. Kenny spoke last week of the midfielder’s ‘exceptional range of passing’ and how the 29-year-old has not been used in his correct position for Ireland.
That position is at the base of midfield and McCarthy, who last played for Ireland in 2016, could become the fulcrum of Kenny’s team.
Hendrick starts alongside him in this team. The Newcastle United midfielder can still become a key player for Ireland, as he was during Euro 2016.
Hourihane completes the midfield because of his excellent set-piece deliveries. However, Molumby will, if all goes to plan, become a starter for Ireland.
The Brighton midfielder, who impressed on loan with Millwall last season, is rated highly by Kenny and was his captain with the Ireland Under-21 team.
— Robert Redmond (@RobRedmond10) September 8, 2019
Up front, this team features Shane Long and Adam Idah.
The two strikers are at contrasting stages of their careers, but their styles would complement each other and it could be an effective partnership.
Long isn’t included primarily for his goal threat, although his record of 17 goals in 82 games is respectable.
The 33-year-old Southampton forward works extremely hard for his team and would start Ireland’s press.
If the national team are to play on the front foot and take the game to opponents, Long’s qualities could prove essential.
The Tipperary-native acted as the perfect foil for Danny Ings last season in the Premier League.
Idah has only made 16 senior appearances, but the 19-year-old has all the attributes required to forge a career at the top level.
The Cork-native scored a hat-trick for Norwich City in the FA Cup last season. He is a fast, skilful, powerful and intelligent footballer.
Idah can hold the ball up, drop deep to link play and has the pace to trouble any defence. He is a very promising player.
Here is the Ireland team we would pick to play Bulgaria.
Ireland team we would like to see
However, Kenny probably won’t pick play this team.
The former Derry City coach prefers to use a 4-3-3 formation. So, here is the side he is more likely to select.
Ireland team we expect Kenny to pick