Three uncapped Irish players who could be included in Stephen Kenny’s squad this Thursday

Three uncapped Irish players who could be included in Stephen Kenny’s squad this Thursday

Three Irish players who might just deserve a place in Kenny’s squad.

Stephen Kenny names his Republic of Ireland squad for upcoming qualifiers against Greece and Gibraltar this Thursday and there could be a couple of new names in the mix.

Not much more could have been asked of Ireland in the last international window as they fell to narrow defeats against European powerhouses France and the Netherlands, but the manager’s position is under scrutiny over some previous failures to get results against teams around or below Ireland’s level. Greece and Gibraltar undoubtedly both fall into those respective categories.

Kenny earned the Ireland job after years of making teams overachieve within a 4-3-3 shape and now, arguably for the first time in his Ireland career, he has the personnel available to rationally play that formation. The trial run came in the second half of last summer’s 3-0 win against Gibraltar with a front three of Michael Obafemi (Ogbene was injured), Evan Ferguson and Mikey Johnston, supported by make-shift fullbacks James McClean (Ryan Manning pulled out of the squad) and Jason Knight (Matt Doherty was suspended).

For Monday week’s return fixture, Ogbene, Manning and Doherty will all be available, making Kenny’s life that bit easier if he wants to play that shape. Interestingly though, what is helping the case to play the 4-3-3 – maybe even enough to play it against Greece – is the form of three uncapped Irishmen who play in key positions. Their names are Sammie Szmodics, Liam Scales and Andrew Moran.

Sammie Szmodics – Blackburn Rovers

A player on many Irish fans’ lips is Blackburn attacker Sammie Szmodics. With six Championship goals already to his name this season, the 28-year-old is in flying form and there is an argument to be made that Ireland should utilise any free-scoring options that come across the radar. Whether playing as a number ten or as a false-nine, Szmodics is someone who enjoys arriving in the box and finding the net with his accurate shooting boots. 

What he isn’t, is the perfect missing link Ireland have needed to connect the four across midfield (including wing-backs) with the front line. The former Peterborough man enjoys being a livewire in the final third where he can press without the ball and shoot with it, but with Ogbene, Ferguson, Knight, Smallbone, Johnston, Idah and Connolly among the attackers ahead of him in the pecking order, it is difficult to see Kenny starting him in either game.

There is no doubt though, Szmodics could be useful in a similar capacity to WIl Keane. Like Preston marksman Keane, Szmodics has shown through his prolific return in the Championship that he knows where the net is. That means if Ireland are struggling to make a breakthrough late on, his form and confidence in front of goal could come in handy. Whether you want an uncapped 28-year-old contracted to the 18th placed team in the Championship starting is another question, however. 

Liam Scales – Celtic

Liam Scales was arguably Celtic’s best player in September and is surely a shoe-in for Kenny’s squad. The 24-year-old defender has been involved in Ireland squads before but is yet to be capped, largely because of the fruitful options available at centre-back. This time around however, two things are working in Scales’ favour which could well help him win his debut against Greece or Gibraltar. 

For one, Ireland’s centre-back options are not in their usual rude health. Leader at the back, John Egan, looks set to miss the international window after coming away from Sheffield United’s Premier League defeat to West Ham on crutches last weekend. That looks to be the chief concern for the Irish management team but the real issue is that the alternatives have seen next to no gametime since the last international window.

Andrew Omobamidele is yet to feature for Nottingham Forest since signing from Norwich on deadline day, and Dara O’Shea has been limited to cup minutes after losing his place in the Burnley eleven. That means Nathan Collins is likely to start on the right-side of a back three, with Shane Duffy in the middle. The position on the left of the three is up for grabs though, and because Scales is left-footed, playing regularly and playing well, he has a real chance of starting one of the two games. 

The other possibility is that Scales benefits from Kenny switching up his formation in one of the games. While a 3-4-2-1 is probably the most likely shape to feature against Greece, the away meeting with Gibralar could be an ideal time to test a 4-3-3. That formation worked terrifically against the same opposition last time and Scales could prove a useful addition at left-back in an orthodox back four. Ryan Manning and James McClean are alternatives but they would be more comfortable further forward as left wing-backs. 

Andrew Moran – Blackburn Rovers

Moran captained the Ireland under-21s to wins against Turkey and San Marino in the last international window but was especially impressive against Turkey as he scored a wonderful goal and won a penalty. In the small space of time since though, he has kicked on to the next level. Now on loan with Blackburn Rovers from Brighton, the creative midfielder is expressing his full technical skillset in the Championship. He was Blackburn’s most impressive attacking contributor on Sunday against Leicester as his well-weighted passes and mazey dribbles got fans on their feet. 

That, though, wasn’t even his best performance of the week. On Tuesday in the EFL Cup, what was billed as ‘Blackburn Vs Cardiff’ quickly turned out to be the ‘Andrew Moran Show’. The 19-year-old scored two goals, provided two assists and won a penalty in a majestic breakthrough display which must have made the Irish coaching team sit forward and take notice. 

As Moran is still a teenager and still only has a handful of men’s football experience, it would be bold and maybe surprising if Kenny called him up on Thursday afternoon. It’s not out of the question though and that’s for a couple of good reasons. The first is Moran’s talent – yes, he has only been showing what he can on the senior stage for the last month but his capacity has been well known by those in the FAI for a long long time.

Excitingly, Brighton coaches speak of him in the same terms as Evan Ferguson so as time unfolds we could see him become an established midfielder in the Premier League. That’s not the case just yet but if Kenny has understandable doubts whether the timing is right, he could still be swayed by his personal love for nimble “Wes Hoolahan type” attacking midfielders who can unlock defences. Ireland haven’t really had one of those players through the entirety of his reign so it would make sense if he was enthusiastic to get Moran involved as soon as possible.