Given the fact that Ireland won’t be at this summer’s World Cup, manager Martin O’Neill’s focus will already be on the next European Championship in 2020.
With the likes of John O’Shea, Wes Hoolahan and Daryl Murphy all retiring from international duty recently, the face of the Irish national side is changing. As such, a number of players hitherto on the sidelines are being pushed forward more, while there are several bright young talents starting to come to the fore.
As of now, taking experience, form, previous selection and performances in the last few friendlies into account, who are the most important players in and around the Irish setup right now?
1. Seamus Coleman. The captain, the leader, one of the few players in the squad with Premier League top six ability. Fully settled back into the swing of things after his broken leg, and will be a huge player in the next campaign.
2. Shane Duffy. In a defence that has lost the experience of John O’Shea, Duffy will be required now more than ever to lead the central defence. The Brighton man has come on leaps and bounds over the past twelve to 18 months.
3. Darren Randolph. Ireland’s goalkeeping situation is a bit scattered right now, with a number of keepers competing to be included in the squad. Randolph is still the undisputed number one, however, and will almost certainly return to the starting lineup for the Nations League.
4. James McClean. The West Brom winger remains one of the first names on the teamsheet, and O’Neill is clearly a massive fan, but it will be interesting to see where he fits in if the manager persists with 3-5-2, particularly when Robbie Brady comes back.
5. Robbie Brady. Had a poor World Cup qualifying campaign, but the fumes of Euro 2016 mean that Brady remains an important player for this Ireland team.
6. David Meyler. Saw his stock grow considerably towards the end of the World Cup campaign. Meyler offers balance in the midfield and shields the defence, though he may face a battle with Rice for the spot in the base of the three in the centre.
7. Kevin Long. Has given a fine account of himself over the course of the recent friendlies, to the point where he has surely jumped ahead of Ciaran Clark in the pecking order.
8. Callum O’Dowda. The Bristol City youngster continues to impress, though he has yet to nail down a definitive position and that could go against him.
9. Jon Walters. The Burnley man has outlined his intention to carry on playing for Ireland, and his experience will be vital for the young and inexperienced forwards coming through. The formation change could make it difficult to find a starting spot for the 34-year-old, however.
10. Shane Long. With the transition of this Ireland side, coupled with Daryl Murphy’s retirement, it’s unclear who will be the main striker(s) will be in the next campaign. Long has buckets of experience compared to his rivals but his goal record is a serious worry.
11. Ciaran Clark. First-choice alongside Long and Duffy if O’Neill goes for a three-man central defence, but Long has performed too well for Clark to take his spot if the manager goes for a flat back four.
12. Declan Rice. It might seem a bit premature to have Rice so high up given his relative inexperience, but the West Ham youngster has been really impressive thus far and O’Neill’s praise after the USA game bodes very well for him.
13. Jeff Hendrick. Still a member of O’Neill’s first-choice starting eleven, but after a string of subpar performances since Euro 2016, for how much longer can that continue?
14. Stephen Ward. Could find his place under threat going forward with Derrick Williams, Greg Cunningham, Enda Stevens and Cyrus Christie all breathing down his neck for the left-back slot, and Robbie Brady or James McClean likely to be preferred at left wing-back.
15. Alan Browne. Had a stellar campaign with Preston and scored his first (unofficial) goal for Ireland in the draw against Celtic). Browne will fancy his chances of nailing down a spot in the midfield.
16. Sean Maguire. The battle to be Ireland’s first-choice striker is an open one – and after scoring nine goals in 18 games in his first season in England, Maguire will definitely be among the prime contenders.
17. Conor Hourihane. The Aston Villa midfielder emerged as a strong goal threat for his club last season. In a national side that often struggles to find the net, having an asset like the Corkman is highly important for the Boys in Green.
18. Scott Hogan. Like Maguire, Hogan will feel suitably ready to nail down a starting spot either ahead of Maguire or as his strike partner.
19. James McCarthy. The Everton midfielder is an important part of the squad when fit, but those instances have been few and far between over the last few injury-ravaged years for McCarthy.
20. Cyrus Christie. Coleman’s understudy at right-back, Christie is a guaranteed member of the squad who could yet be part of the group challenging for the left-side spot too.
21. Harry Arter. Still yet to click fully with Ireland, and with competition in the midfield set to get even more fierce, it could be difficult for Arter in this squad going forward.
22. Colin Doyle. Ireland’s de-facto second-choice keeper right now but one gets the sense that the position isn’t overly secure.
23. Derrick Williams. Thrown in at the deep end against France but handled himself well. Williams will have designs on that left-back slot, especially if he makes a good start to the Championship season.
24. Richard Keogh. John O’Shea’s retirement has moved everyone up a notch, and three at the back would provide far more opportunities for players like Keogh to get a look-in.
25. Graham Burke. Took to international football really well, and scored a goal to cap it off. However, one gets the sense that O’Neill still doesn’t fully trust League of Ireland players to make the step up, especially when it will come to international games.
26. Daryl Horgan. Performed well from the bench against USA but needs to get more regular game time with Preston to give O’Neill something to think about.
27. John Egan. As above. Centre-backs will be more important in a 3-5-2 system, and more of them will get game time.
28. Alan Judge. O’Neill is a big fan of the Brentford midfielder, who may now finally be able to put his injury nightmares behind him and realise his potential with Ireland.
29. Matt Doherty. Barely given a look-in last week – a big surprise after such a strong season with Wolves – and deserves more of a shot to prove his worth internationally.
30. Darragh Lenihan. Gave a good account of himself when he replaced O’Shea last Saturday. Will probably be in O’Neill’s next squad.
31. Eunan O’Kane. In and around the squad for some time now but has the Leeds midfielder made enough of an impression to stay in there when everyone else is fit and raring to go.
32. Keiren Westwood. Unlucky with injuries but his absences have harmed his place in the international side.
33. Shaun Williams. Earned his recent call-up but will he still be there when the regulars all come back from injury/other commitments?
34. Aiden O’Brien. The Millwall forward has been in squads but is yet to play a single minute of senior international football.
35. Callum Robinson. Red tape has delayed Robinson’s involvement in the Ireland setup thus far (bar the Celtic friendly), but expect him to be making a push for the squad in the autumn.
36. Greg Cunningham. The left-back spot is up for grabs, but Cunningham has some strong competition to even be part of the squad.
37. Enda Stevens. See above.
38. Glenn Whelan. Omitted from the squad to face Turkey, and it’s hard to see Whelan forcing his way back in at this stage and given the number of rivals he now has in the midfield.
39. Rob Elliot. Potentially Newcastle’s third choice goalkeeper next season, but (rightly or wrongly) is in contention simply by virtue of being a Premier League player.
40. Aiden McGeady. Has seemingly dropped off a cliff as far as international recognition is concerned.
41. Alex Pearce
42. Paul McShane
43. Johnny Hayes
44. Shane Supple
45. Stephen Gleeson
46. Conor O’Malley
47. Patrick Bamford
48. Kieran O’Hara
49. Ryan Manning
50. Jack Byrne