Georgia at home and away to Moldova. They were two games in which the Republic of Ireland were expected to earn six points, needed six points and got six points.
It was arguably one of the weakest Irish teams in recent years, but they got the job done. However, the squad was not just weak, but old too.
The starting eleven (below) named by Martin O’Neill for Sunday’s qualifier had an average age of 29.
Darren Randolph – 29
Seamus Coleman – 28
Ciaran Clark – 27
Shane Duffy – 24
Stephen Ward – 31
Jonathan Walters – 33
James McCarthy – 25
Glenn Whelan – 32
James McClean – 27
Wes Hoolahan – 34
Shane Long – 29
After three qualification games, Ireland have already registered seven points. One can’t ask for much more than that. The worry isn’t even for the remaining seven group games, but after them and following the World Cup if the country manages to qualify.
The Republic of Ireland have a terribly ageing squad and the future of the Irish senior team within the next ten years looks bleak, if there remains to be a lack of players aged between 18-23 getting game time in the country’s remaining qualifiers.
Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, who are both aged 24, were out of last Sunday’s victorious side due to a concussion and a suspension respectively.
The two are now seen as first team regulars and while they would’ve brought down the average team age, it would only decrease marginally to 27.4.
O’Neill did hand two competitive debuts to Callum O’Dowda and Eunan O’Kane recently. O’Dowda, aged 21, looked very bright when coming on in last Sunday’s clash and looks to be a great prospect for the future and while it was positive to see Leeds’ O’Kane get his first competitive cap at the age of 26 he can’t be considered a youngster anymore.
At this moment in time, there doesn’t seem to be many players aged between 20-24 that are equipped to make a meaningful impact on the team.
However, there are a whole host of youngsters aged between 16-20 that are currently at Premier League clubs – Jack Byrne at Manchester City and Conor Masterson at Liverpool to name a few – and if they continue to develop at the rate they are, they could be the ones leading the Republic of Ireland into World Cup and European Championships in years to come.
William Dunne, Pundit Arena