The raging debates over squad possibles and probables have ceased. Barring injury, those on standby will remain there. In the first of a four-part series, Brian Strahan takes a look at the Republic of Ireland’s chosen squad, starting with the goalkeepers.
If David Forde felt hard done by, his genial manner didn’t allow it to show. Signing autographs shortly after receiving the news that he had been omitted from Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad on Tuesday night, he was a paradigm of humility.
The argument made for his exclusion was that he didn’t have enough game time for Millwall. And while he did have a glut of first team appearances over Christmas and early January, he can’t argue his lack of first team sharpness.
Shay Given, who joined Stoke last summer, had a season to cement his place and, in doing so, solidify his position as Ireland’s first choice ‘keeper. He didn’t; three first team appearances under Mark Hughes was his lot. Less than half of Forde’s league appearances. The argument, of course, is that there is a huge difference between League One and the Premier League. Given, however, lined out for a side that was already happy with its end-of-season lot. In essence, his appearances carried little weight.
Forde started the campaign as Ireland’s first choice, but was by no means in sole occupancy with Given taking his opportunities as they came. By the time Scotland made the return visit to Dublin, Forde was starting and despite conceding in a match where both sides endeavoured to out-do each other in the mediocrity stakes, he started and impressed in the 1-1 draw in Gelsenkirchen. The former Derry City man was calm in the face of German dominance and there was little he could do about Toni Kroos and his cannoned shot. This game alone should have ensured his spot.
But by the time Germany came to Dublin though, it was Given that was starting. And when his injury shortly before half time ended his participation, the real twist occurred. Darren Randolph entered the fray and commanded order in his defence. His assist for Shane Long’s goal won praise, despite its accuracy not being what it was perceived to be – initially intended as a hopeful ball to Jon Walters, and he retained his place for the anti-climactic defeat in Poland. The West Ham reserve appears to be the front-runner right? Not quite, there’s another twist: Keiren Westwood.
If Rob Elliot of Newcastle hadn’t been so unfortunate in his injury, it’s quite likely Westwood wouldn’t have made the squad before Tuesday evening’s cull as he was cut from the provisional 40-man squad for Ireland’s games with Switzerland and Slovakia. The case for his inclusion in the starting eleven however, has gathered genuine momentum.
Not yet 32, Westwood has essentially peaked. He is playing Championship football with Sheffield Wednesday and appears to be performing to a higher level than when he did in his Premier League days. It’s to that League he should expect to return this summer after losing out in the play-offs, conceding an unstoppable long range effort from Mo Diame but his clean sheets and high-level performances have drawn nothing but positive comments in recent months.
Martin O’Neill’s concerns in the past were towards Westwood’s propensity to drop from Ireland squads. This is something Westwood himself addressed this week. That he would be sitting this week, along with room-mate Randolph at all, must have been something he doubted when he saw Forde come on for the last twenty minutes of defeat to Belarus in Turner’s Cross.
His inclusion may have been deemed the biggest call by O’Neill. Anyone who has seen his performances for Sheffield Wednesday this season would tell you it should have been one of O’Neill’s easiest calls.
Brian Strahan, Pundit Arena