Friday 9 December 2016

Hopefuls waiting for Ireland debut call from O'Neill

Published 08/03/2016 | 02:30

Blackburn’s Darragh Lenihan. Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Blackburn’s Darragh Lenihan. Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Later this week, Martin O'Neill will sit down to make his first personnel decisions of 2016.

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His provisional squad announcement for the games with Switzerland and Slovakia will not cause him any stress compared to the big calls that are coming over the horizon with regard to his final 23 for France.

The formbook would suggest that the list he produces on Friday will contain between 30 and 45 names; the real intrigue lies in the final squad which is sent out via e-mail after the final round of club games before they report for duty.

So injury doubts such as John O'Shea, Harry Arter and Robbie Brady are likely to be named along with players who are out of favour with their clubs and need to do more to have a chance of making it to Paris. Darron Gibson immediately springs to mind.

All the contenders should expect to be notified that they are in consideration for the Dublin double header.

However, O'Neill has hinted that the Aviva games will open the door for some experimentation with a view to the longer term. He suggested that invitations could be extended to players outside his current squad, even if it's the next World Cup campaign rather than the Euros that's in mind.

Among the players who should have a reason to be interested by this development are:

RICHIE TOWELL

The fact that he is still waiting for a league debut at Brighton means that he is well down the pecking order in terms of form options.

But it was in response to a query about Towell that O'Neill stated that he was looking at inviting a new face into the panel.

"I wouldn't rule someone of that ilk out at this minute," he said. "And in fact there's a possibility that for one of the two games I would bring someone like that into the squad, at least to have them around and maybe even participate in one of the games."

It would be a huge confidence boost for Towell who has struggled for gametime with Chris Hughton immersed in a battle to make the Premier League.

CHRIS FORRESTER

Needed the fresh start when he left St Patrick's Athletic for Peterborough last August and he has slotted seamlessly into his new environment.

The midfielder is now used in a holding role by the League One side and has made 32 appearances, quickly establishing himself as an important member of their squad.

In the FA Cup tie with West Brom, the 23-year-old showed that he has the technical quality to mix it with elite company and his chairman Darragh MacAnthony expects to receive big offers for the Dubliner in the not too distant future. He was also namechecked by O'Neill.

JACK BYRNE

There is momentum building behind the U-21 international who is currently learning his trade in Holland with Cambuur after Manchester City sent the playmaker there to further his education.

His temporary employers are engaged in a battle with the drop and they really need to produce a special run to avoid falling through the trap door. Byrne has impressed, however, and was yesterday named in the Eredivisie Team of the Week despite a weekend loss to Feyenoord.

In his previous start, the 19-year-old scored the winner against FC Zwolle and he looks a banker to feature at some stage in the World Cup race if he continues this rate of progression.

ALAN BROWNE

His progress has gone under the radar. Preston aren't exactly a thrill a minute side - their weekend scoreless draw with Brighton was the eighth of the season - but the ex-Cork City midfielder has made 33 outings this term which reflects his importance to Simon Grayson. They retain an outside chance of making the play-offs and that would raise his profile.

DARRAGH LENIHAN

Lenihan, currently captainof the U-21s, has just penned a new three and a half year deal with Blackburn. That reflects how much the versatile performer has impressed Paul Lambert since breaking into his side.

Lambert has a direct line to both O'Neill and Roy Keane so they should be well on top of his story. His club team-mate Shane Duffy - a target for Crystal Palace - is certain to be in the provisional squad.

Irish Independent

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