John Brennan picks Ireland's Euro 2016 squad (and those who miss out)
What if Martin O’Neill had to submit the Irish squad for Euro 2016 tomorrow and not on June 1?
Would it be all that different to what we presume he is likely to do come the summer?
It looks as though it would be because the Irish boss has made it clear that players who are not playing regularly for their clubs will suffer unless there are a raft of injuries.
This becomes a massive issue for the likes of Aiden McGeady, Darron Gibson and Anthony Stokes who have struggled for game time this season. If any of the trio don’t get loan moves by the close of the transfer window on February 1, then they’ll need an injury crisis to strike their current clubs to have any chance of travelling to France in June.
By sidelining McGeady for the vital matches against Germany, Poland and Bosnia, the manager made himself very clear on that issue.
McGeady’s two goals against Georgia in Tbilisi in September 2014 decided the game to hand Ireland a winning start in our group. But by last Autumn, the winger was definitely dispensable.
Unlike for routine international breaks, when O’Neill announces a panel of as many as 39 players and then trims it to 28 or so to travel to Dublin, for the Euros he is limited to 20 outfield players and three goalkeepers.
That means a versatile player, who can cover a few positions, has a great chance of making the teavelling party ahead of a specialist who can only handle one role. Thus defender Paul McShane is in our group for now and so is David Meyler who can play anywhere across midfield.
O’Neill is not making the mistake that Giovanni Trapattoni made in 2012, when he only had one friendly match between qualifying and announcing the Euro squad. The Derryman has three internationals arranged already – two at the end of March and one in May – and is looking for a fourth.
So nothing is set in stone yet, far from it. Here’s our take on the squad O’Neill would announce tomorrow, but of course the real thing may be very different when the Irish manager announces his finals squad.
Darren Randolph (West Ham)
Shay Given (Stoke)
Rob Elliot (Newcastle)
This line of the team and squad may well be the most difficult choice for O’Neill when it comes to his panel and the one area where he may ignore his ‘must be playing’ rule.
If Rob Elliot stays in the Magpies’ starting XI he has to travel to the Euros. Darren Randolph only plays in West Ham’s cup ties, but he appears to enjoy O’Neill’s faith and , crucially, that of goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh too.
Shay Given will get the third nod for his experience. Being left out will be hard on David Forde, who’s recently regained his spot for Millwall, and Keiren Westwood who has made 17 appearances to date for Sheffield Wednesday this season.
Seamus Coleman (Everton)
John O’Shea (Sunderland)
Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)
Richard Keogh (Derby)
Marc Wilson (Stoke)
Cyrus Christie (Derby)
Stephen Ward (Burnley)
Paul McShane (Reading)
In defence, O’Neill is pretty much set unless some player comes along to usurp McShane from his ‘handyman’ role as the last defender. I reckon the other seven players have just to be fit at the end of May to travel. The one thing that might upset this section of the squad is if a number of midfielders offer themselves as options in the months ahead and O’Neill gives himself a bit of sliding room by including Robbie Brady as a full-back.
Glenn Whelan (Stoke)
James McCarthy (Everton) James McClean (West Brom) Robbie Brady (Norwich)
Wes Hoolahan (Norwich)
Jeff Hendrick (Derby)
David Meyler (Hull)
Harry Arter (Bournemouth)
By contrast the midfield selection is open to all sorts of changes come the summer.
A fit and playing Gibson would be a massive addition to the group while McGeady is one of a handful of players available to O’Neill who has what Trap used to call ‘a bit of fantasy’.
Remember Richard Keogh’s headed chance thatwould have seen Ireland qualify automatically with a draw against Poland in Warsaw last October?
It was McGeady who created that opportunity by jinking his way past a defender and crossing onto the centre-half’s head.
Harry Arter is a regular for Bournemouth since his return from injury and might be able to use those pre-tournament friendlies to force his way in.
Come to think of it, given O’Neill’s probable midfield options, Brady may well go as a designated full-back.
Jon Walters (Stoke)
Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
Shane Long (Southampton)
Daryl Murphy (Ipswich)
Since Ireland’s strong performances at the end of last year against Germany, Poland and Bosnia all came when the manager packed the midfield and played with one striker, it seems that no more than four attackers will travel.
Shane Long brings searing pace – ask the Germans. Walters is the sort of all-action player O’Neill loves and was the star of qualifying. Murphy can be a decent target man, while Robbie Keane will be brought as the squad captain and as a possible source of a goal in the latter stages of any game.
MISSING THE BOAT
Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wed)
David Forde (Millwall)
Shane Duffy (Blackburn)
Aiden McGeady (Everton)
Darron Gibson (Everton)
Alan Judge (Brentford)
Stephen Quinn (Hull)
Kevin Doyle (Colorado Rapids)
David McGoldrick (Ipswich)
Anthony Stokes (Celtic)
These are the lads with a lot to do if they are to realise their dream of going to the Euros.
Duffy has been an ever-present for Blackburn this season and has caught the attention of the Irish management.
If Judge continues to impress with Brentford – he’s the Bees top scorer with 10 gaols from a midfield berth this season – he has a chance - but it’s a very crowded area in the Irish squad. An area Reading’s Stephen Quinn would love to invade too. He is regularly called up by Martin O’Neill for matches, but could miss out on travelling because of the smaller crew the manager takes to France.
If Stokes could score goals, lots of them, for Dundee United, he’d have a sniff of grabbing Murphy’s place among the forwards.
For the other strikers used of late, it is looking grim.
A succession of injuries has pushed McGoldrick down the Irish pecking order, he has work to do to climb back up. Ditto with Doyle who, for now, is on the outside looking in from Colorado.
But the big issue is will Gibson and McGeady get moves away from Everton?
And then will they play well enough, wherever they land, to force their way into the manager’s Euro thinking?