The Premier League relegation fight could have a big knock-on effect for the Ireland national side.
The Boys in Green are well represented in England’s top flight, with Newcastle and Brighton set to bring several more internationals up with them next season, but depending on how the battle survival pans out, others could find themselves in the Championship in the next campaign.
Sunderland look all but certain to be heading down, bringing John O’Shea and Darron Gibson with them, and while Middlesbrough are on course to join them (barring a massive Boro fightback), the last spot could have as many as six teams battling to stay out of trouble – though realistically it should only come down to two or three.
Nonetheless, the teams who could find themselves in trouble in the next couple of weeks contain a healthy contingent of Irish players, and O’Neill will be hoping that as many of his squad as possible are in the top tier next season.
Stoke City are more or less safe, so Glenn Whelan, Jon Walters and, er, Stephen Ireland, are probably guaranteed top flight status assuming they stay at the Bet365 Stadium in the summer, but those below could possibly still be a bit nervous.
13. Bournemouth (38 points)
Irish Players: Harry Arter
At long last, Harry Arter has solidified his place in the Ireland squad. The Cherries midfielder has seen his international career halted by a number of injury concerns, but is now competing for a spot in that central midfield. Bournemouth’s probable survival will give the 27-year-old another season in the top flight to grow in experience as a player at the highest level, and will also be a major boost to his international future.
14. West Ham United (38 Points)
Irish Players: Darren Randolph
Having fought off competition from Adrian to claim the West Ham number one jersey, Randolph found himself on the bench again in last week’s 0-0 draw against Everton. Ireland’s first choice keeper has endured a difficult season at the London Stadium, and while West Ham have had a markedly poorer campaign than last year, they’ve probably done enough to stay up.
That said, Randolph’s dropping so close to the opening of the transfer window doesn’t bode well for the 29-year-old.
16. Burnley (36 Points)
Irish Players: Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady, Kevin Long
Burnley are the side most Irish fans will be keeping the closest eye on in the final weeks of the season, not least because they have over a quarter of the national team’s usual starting eleven playing for them. Ward, Hendrick and Brady have all played in the Championship recently so they are used to it (Brady, in fact, has been relegated in each of the past two seasons with different clubs) though it is imperative for O’Neill to have his stalwarts in the Premier League.
Burnley aren’t out of the woods by any means, but one more win should be enough to carry them over the line.
17. Hull City (33 Points)
Irish Players: David Meyler, Brian Lenihan
Meyler has been in and out of the Hull side this season, and has already seen his campaign ended by injury, so he may have already played his last Premier League game for the foreseeable future. Lenihan, meanwhile, has had something of a nightmare with injuries since swapping Cork City for Hull City in 2014. The defender has been linked with a loan move back to Turner’s Cross in the summer, and it does seem likely that he will be allowed to leave to regain some fitness.
Hull themselves, meanwhile, are just ahead of Swansea in the fight for survival right now, and while that makes them slight favourites, it still looks like going right to the wire.
20. Sunderland (21 Points)
Irish Players: John O’Shea. Darron Gibson
Relegation could be confirmed as soon as this weekend, and it would take the sort of miracle that would put Jesus Christ himself to shame to keep Sunderland up at this point.
When that happens, O’Shea and Gibson will either be Championship players next year or convince another Premier League club to give them a home. O’Shea’s contract is up in the summer so he is free to move wherever he wants, but Gibson is contracted to the club until 2018.
Joining us on the Mixer football podcast this week is Shamrock Rovers defender Roberto Lopes, in addition to our usual review of the latest round of League of Ireland action.