Martin O’Neill has named his provisional squad for the upcoming crucial World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Wales next month featuring both Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire.
Following the disappointing results last time out with a devastating draw in Georgia followed by a defeat at home to Serbia that all but handed the visitors a place at next summer’s tournament, O’Neill knows he must get six points this time out if he is to have a chance of making the playoffs at the very least for next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Ireland are third in the table, a point behind Wales and five behind leaders Serbia, after only picking up three points from their last four games.
With both McClean and Robbie Brady ruled out against Moldova through suspension, added with the loss of Burnley’s Jon Walters, the case for fresh blood up front has never been more needed.
O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane have a decision to make with both Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire (and, potentially, Millwall’s Aiden O’Brien) ready to step up to provide the goals that will be needed to overcome the hurdle of Moldova and Wales.
Put simply, Ireland are missing the goals of Robbie Keane. Shane Long would die for his country with his boots on as the saying goes but he was never going to get near the goals provided by the former Tottenham man. He offers something different.
O’Neill needs Hogan or Maguire to step up and be that man. While Hogan has taken his time to declare for the Republic, it has to be respected that it was a huge decision for the Salford born man and he deserved the time and respect to come to his decision to play for the country of his grandparents.
The Aston Villa man moved to the midlands from Brentford and while his Villa career has yet to take off, his record at The Bees makes for interesting reading. The 25 year old clocked up 15 goals in the season before he joined Steve Bruce’s men and while injuries have disrupted his progression he remains a real goal threat in the box and brings strength, pace and heading ability into the team.
Another option to fill the void left by Keane is Maguire. The former Cork City man is starting to make a name for himself at Preston after seeing Simon Grayson, the man who signed him, depart the club even before he had arrived in England.
New boss Alex Neil has bedded the youngster in gently and has been rewarded with two goals, two assists and three man of the match awards so far this campaign as the 23 year old finds his feet. The striker has already become a crowd favourite at the Lancashire side.
Maguire scored 38 goals in 52 league games for Cork City. He finished top scorer in the division with 18 goals in his first season with the rebels and was a part of the Cork City Europa League qualifying campaign in his second. This year as Cork look to end their twelve year title drought in the SSE Airtricity league, the youngster’s goals see them on course to do just that and he remains the league’s top scorer despite his departure to England in July.
While Robbie Keane is an Irish legend and any team would find it hard to replace 68 goals in 146 appearances, fact remains Ireland are not blessed with a large pool of talent and players like Paul McGrath, Roy Keane and Robbie Keane do not come along every day.
O’Neill needs goals to get Ireland to Russia (or failing that, for the next campaign should he be around to oversee it). The time is now to introduce Hogan and Maguire to the International setup and see what they have to offer.
While Shane Long offers something different, Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick, put simply, are not going to set the world alight in an Irish jersey and are pushing the wrong side of thirty.
O’Neill has nothing to lose by throwing the pair into his first team plans. Hopefully one of them can be Ireland’s Ben Woodburn.
Damien McEvoy Pundit Arena