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“It Was Not So Long Ago When We Were Playing Against Each Other In League One”

The Republic of Ireland play Bulgaria on Tuesday night in Dublin in a friendly, and it will be a chance for some players – such as John Egan and James Collins – to make their mark for the national team.

Since Mick McCarthy returned to the Ireland job, he has largely picked the same starting line-ups, but Tuesday’s match at the Aviva Stadium offers him the chance to experiment.

Ireland are likely to make several changes to the starting XI from last Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Switzerland. Sheffield United pair David McGoldrick and Callum Robinson, both of whom started the Euro 2020 qualifier, have left the squad to get treatment on injuries.

Their Sheffield United teammate John Egan looks set to earn his third cap for Ireland and Luton Town centre-forward James Collins appears to be in line to make his debut.

Both players spoke to the assembled media on Sunday at FAI HQ in Abbottstown, where they reflected on playing against each other at club level and overcoming setbacks in their respective careers.

“Me and John were talking the other day, it was not so long ago when we were playing against each other in League One for Gillingham and Shrewsbury,” the Luton Town forward said. He also revealed that his family are flying over from England to attend the game.

“So, to see how far we’ve both come since then – obviously, John playing in the Premier League now and myself in the Championship – it can show any young player that, if you do have a setback, you can only bounce back if you work hard.”

Collins scored in that League One game back in November 2015, which is why he mentioned the game on Sunday, according to Egan, who was playing for Gillingham at the time. The central defender worked his way back up the leagues in England after leaving Sunderland in 2014.

Egan joined Brentford two years later before earning a move to Sheffield United. Last season, as part of the club’s Irish contingent, he helped the Blades earn promotion to the Premier League and has started every game for them so far during the current campaign.

Egan has played in all four professional divisions in England. On Sunday, he said that the step-up to the top-flight is a mental one, as one cannot afford to lose concentration for a second against the calibre of players in the Premier League.

“The Championship is really physically demanding, playing every Saturday and Tuesday,” he said.

“I think the Premier League is more mentally demanding. You come up against players – you give them one chance, they’re going to take it. Especially in my position, you’re going to have to be focused for every second of the game, because as soon as you allow a player of that calibre in on goal, it’s going to be a goal.

“We’ve taken to it quite well, personally I feel like my performances have been good. I’ve really enjoyed the step up. I’m trying to embrace it and really have a good few games and good season now and show that I belong.”

Collins also spoke about being selected in the Ireland squad ahead of Shane Long. The Southampton forward has played 82 times for the Boys in Green, scoring 17 goals, but has barely featured for his club this season. McCarthy opted for Collins, who has scored three times in six games for Luton in the Championship this season.

The 28-year-old striker, who is from Coventry, told reporters that it is a “confidence booster” to be selected ahead of Long, and it is now up to him to seize his opportunity.

“Shane has done far more than me in his club and Ireland career. Mick didn’t bring me in if he didn’t think about giving me the chance of being involved.

“With the game being a friendly, it’s a massive opportunity for players who’ve not got minutes to play. We still want to win the game. It’s down to me to impress the gaffer if I get my debut.”

Of the 22 players remaining in McCarthy’s squad, 21 trained at Abbottstown in west Dublin on Sunday afternoon. Richard Keogh was the only absentee, but the Derby County defender is set to join back up with the squad on Sunday evening.

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