THIS AFTERNOON, GIOVANNI TRAPATTONI will name his 23-man Republic of Ireland squad for next month’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
Whittling down a panel for a major championship is never an easy process; deserving candidates will slip through the net while others skip ahead of them in the queue, seemingly on a whim.
While we wait for Trap to arrive in the Aviva with his sheet of destiny, we’ve asked our writers to pick the men they would send to the Euros this summer.
As groups of sunburned, singing Irish fans will remind us this summer: we all dream of a Gary Breens.
But UEFA red tape won’t allow that, will it?
Instead we’ve gone for a well-balanced squad that rewards loyalty and hard work over a number of less successful campaigns and blends youth and talent. We’ll probably win the thing with this gang.
There’s little in the way of surprises other than maybe Colin Doyle who’s saved eight of the last 10 penalties he’s faced I’m told. Get him on for a shoot-out, Trap.
Otherwise the litmus test of James McClean: yay or nay is answered in the affirmative and D-Gib gets the nod ahead of an unlucky Keith Fahey. Just about.
Goalkeepers: Given, Westwood, Doyle.
Defenders: Dunne, O’Shea, St Ledger, Ward, Kelly, O’Dea, Foley.
Midfielders: Andrews, Whelan, McGeady, Duff, Hunt, Gibson, McCarthy, McClean.
Strikers: Keane, Long, Cox, Walters, Doyle.
Barring some extreme tomfoolery from Signor Trapattoni this afternoon, there are only four or five positions really up for grabs in the squad.
With a bit of luck, the only action Ireland’s third keeper will get next month is in a few warm-up drills, so it’s hardly the most important decision of the 23. On form, Motherwell’s Darren Randolph probably deserves the spot but David Forde has served his time as the backup backup man and it would be cruel to deny him now. At 32, this might be his last shot at a major championship.
Of the seven defenders, the only place up for grabs falls between Kevin Foley and Ciaran Clark. Foley’s versatility is an asset but there may be enough cover at right-full already. Ward is the only natural left-sided defender and it makes sense to bring another in Clark, particularly as he can do a job in midfield if necessary.
Midfield is where it gets tricky. It’s hard to see Trap bringing two players as inexperienced as McCarthy and McClean, but both have earned their place on form. If they go, the final midfield place comes down to a straight battle between Gibson, Fahey and Green which the Everton man might nick.
Up front, there are five attackers and all five deserve to go. If any miss out, it will be a shame.
Goalkeepers: Given, Westwood, Forde.
Defenders: Dunne, St Ledger, O’Shea, Ward, O’Dea, Kelly, Clark.
Midfielders: Whelan, Andrews, McGeady, Duff, Hunt, Gibson, McCarthy, McClean.
Strikers: Keane, Doyle, Long, Cox, Walters.
The goalkeeping department seems a bit of a closed shop. On form, I’d have Paddy Kenny back involved but that isn’t going to happen, so David Forde deserves to make up the three.
In defence, O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger and Ward are the starting back four with Stephen Kelly first choice cover. Darren O’Dea has done well when he’s been asked to deputise and Kevin Foley gets the shout because of his versatility.
There are plenty of options in midfield but Duff, McGeady and central pairing Whelan and Andrews have to be definites. Behind them, James McCarthy has proved his pedigree at club level this season as has the much talked-about James McClean, while Darron Gibson’s move to Everton has been a beneficial one and Keith Fahey is a useful asset to have at your disposal.
Up top, all five of our strikers get the nod for Poland. If Leon Best was fit and playing half as well as Papiss Demba Cisse at Newcastle it might be a different story, but it’s as you are.
Finally on stand-by, Ciaran Clark has time on his side and should carve out a distinguished international career in the future, Seamus Coleman is an undoubted talent and is unlucky to miss out and Stephen Hunt played his part in the qualifiers but I rate him behind the players I’ve chosen.
Wes Hoolahan, meanwhile, has shown he can mix it in the Premier League and would be a valuable addition but I’d be inclined to wait until the World Cup qualifiers to give him a chance.
Goalkeepers: Given, Westwood, Forde.
Defenders: Kelly, O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward, O’Dea, Foley.
Midfielders: Duff, Andrews, Whelan, McGeady, McCarthy, Gibson, McClean, Fahey.
Strikers: Keane, Walters, Long, Doyle, Cox.
Stand-by: Clark, Coleman, Hunt, Hoolahan.
The back five pretty much picks itself, though I’d love to see Ciaran Clark in there.
The one area people may see as controversial is the selection of only three wingers, but in James McClean we have a man capable of playing 270-280 minutes in a week. The Duffer may not be up to that any more, but with Keith Fahey, Darron Gibson, Simon Cox and Jon Walters available, there is no shortage of players able to fill a gap on the flank.
In attack, I’ve mentioned two possible strikers already. Kevin Doyle has to go no matter what his form has been like. I would start Shane Long though, more pace, more power and I trust him in front of goal.
Goalkeepers: Given, Westwood, Doyle.
Defenders: Dunne, O’Shea, Kelly, Ward, St Ledger, O’Dea, Clark.
Midfielders: Whelan, Andrews, McGeady, Duff, McCarthy, Gibson, Fahey, McClean.
Strikers: Keane, Doyle, Walters, Long, Cox.
It’s fair to say the majority of the squad picks itself. For the squad below though, most of the decisions favour in-form players – a policy that Trap is unlikely to adopt, admittedly.
David Forde is probably the most likely player to get the third goalkeeping spot, though Paddy Kenny should go, owing to his Premier League experience.
In defence, six of the seven picks are consistent with Trap’s selections in recent games. Marc Wilson deserves a chance ahead of Kevin Foley, as his form has been better this season, starting twice as many games as the Wolves man. Moreover, he is a more versatile player, as he can operate in full back or central defence.
In midfield, Wes Hoolahan should go ahead of Stephen Hunt. Hunt’s role as the strong, bustling impact substitute has been rendered somewhat redundant following the emergence of James McClean. The Wolves man has rarely played this season and simply now seems like an all-too-similar inferior version of McClean. Wes Hoolahan, on the other hand, has had a terrific season and possesses a level of midfield creativity that no other Irish player can offer – he would be a decent option if we found ourselves 2-0 down against Croatia at half-time, for example.
Keith Fahey is also a creative player in the mould of Hoolahan, though unlike the Norwich man, he has yet to really prove he can compete at the top level of the game. In addition, James McCarthy is simply a better player than Paul Green, and he’s proven he’s adept in a defensive role for Wigan this season.
Up front, Anthony Stokes is more of a goal threat than Simon Cox and has been playing at a higher level this season (Celtic versus West Brom reserves). Cox has performed reasonably for Ireland, though his dire club form surely cannot be ignored. The other four spots need no explanation.
Goalkeepers: Given, Westwood, Kenny
Defenders: Dunne, St Ledger, O’Shea, Ward, Kelly, O’Dea, Wilson.
Midfielders: Andrews, Whelan, Duff, McGeady, McClean, Gibson, McCarthy, Hoolahan.
Strikers: Keane, Long, Doyle, Walters, Stokes.
Now have your say in the comments section — who would you pick in your 23-man Ireland squad?