With the World Cup qualifier against Wales behind them, Martin O’Neill’s Ireland now look to the friendly against Iceland on Tuesday night.
A number of injuries picked up in the bruising encounter at the Aviva, coupled with the players that were forced to withdraw in the buildup, means that O’Neill has a depleted squad to call upon for the match against the surprise package of Euro 2016.
That said, the loss of some established names gives a few of the fringe players of the Irish squad the chance to impress. Several of the players involved will be starting for the very first time and while experience will be in relatively short supply, Irish fans in the Aviva on Tuesday will be very eager to see how these players perform.
The Preston winger has been selected for the last two squads and while the matches against Austria and Wales were seemingly not the best time to introduce Horgan to international football, Tuesday’s friendly is the perfect time to do so. The former Dundalk star has made a very promising start to his career in the Championship and there is no reason, considering the pressure-free environment, why he cannot start against Iceland.
Comfortable on either wing, Horgan’s versatility will be vital going forward and he deserves his chance to impress.
Like Horgan, Conor Hourihane was involved in a January transfer, but Championship audiences were already well aware of the 26-year-old, having turned in a number of impressive performances as Barnsley captain in the first half of the season.
Now at Aston Villa, Hourihane has continued to impress and in an Irish midfield that has a lot of competition, the Cork native knows he must take this chance to stake a claim to be part of O’Neill’s squad in the long run. In fact, there is every possibility that he could be eyeing up the creative void that will be left when Wes Hoolahan hangs up his boots.
The 24-year-old defender has taken to the Championship, as with the two players above him, like a duck to water and it was no surprise to see that his form for Brentford has finally merited an international call-up. With so many central defenders missing for Tuesday’s match, whichever partnership Ireland go with against Iceland will be a raw one.
Alex Pearce and fellow uncapped defender Andy Boyle will also be pushing for a start, but Egan will be the one that most fans would arguably like to see be given the nod.
Eyebrows were raised last summer when under-21 international O’Dowda was drafted into O’Neill’s warm-up friendlies ahead of Euro 2016 – and while there was never really much chance of the then-Oxford winger being taken to France, that he was then given his debut in one of those matches (against Belarus on the night the final squad was announced) was still a surprise.
Since then, the Bristol City player has been a permanent fixture in the Irish senior squad and while he is yet to start for the Boys in Green, appearances against Oman and Moldova suggest that the manager is still easing him into international football. That patience could earn him a start on Tuesday.
While Christie is much less of an unknown quantity than the names above, Seamus Coleman’s injury has given the Derby County right-back the biggest test of his credentials as an Irish international. He cannot possibly be expected to emulate the captain’s leadership ability, but the fact that he is now effectively Ireland’s first-choice right-back for the foreseeable future thrusts him further into the limelight.
The 24-year-old has never been anything but dependable in an Irish shirt, as his competitive matches against Gibraltar and world champions Germany can attest to, but how he handles the transition from understudy to main man – beginning on Tuesday – could have a big bearing on the rest of Ireland’s World Cup qualification campaign.