SIMON Cox is hoping for big things from a new generation of Republic of Ireland internationals.
The 25-year-old Nottingham Forest striker has played much of his recent football for his country as an auxiliary midfielder, but was last night handed a starting berth alongside Shane Long as an out-and-out frontman with manager Giovanni Trapattoni testing the depth of his squad in a 1-0 friendly defeat by Greece.
In doing so, he included Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, James McClean and Robbie Brady, and the link-up between full-back Coleman and winger Brady down the right was one of the more positive features of Ireland's performance on the night.
There was a second senior cap for 30-year-old Wes Hoolahan too, with Trapattoni looking to introduce flexibility to his team after four and a half years of sticking rigidly to a 4-4-2 formation.
In the circumstances the narrow defeat, while disappointing, still yielded positives.
Cox said: "We have had players come in. The likes of Robbie Brady has come in and showed what he can do. Obviously, Wes has come in and had a good 45 minutes.
"We have blooded a good number of players who should help us in the long run.
"That's a great sign for the future of Irish football. It's a positive.
"You saw how well Seamus played again. He could end up making that right-back spot his own.
"We have bedded in a few new players, young players, hungry players into our squad. Hopefully there are exciting times ahead."
The defeat by the Greeks, who are ranked some 24 places above Ireland, brought an end to an at times turbulent year which saw Trapattoni's future thrown into question by last month's disastrous 6-1 World Cup qualifier hammering by Germany in the wake of a disappointing showing at Euro 2012.
Cox admits he will look back on the last 12 months with mixed emotions, but is also anticipating a return to international action in the new year, when the Republic will face Poland in a February friendly before their potentially crucial qualifiers against Sweden and Austria the following month.
He said: "We got into the Euros, which was disappointing to be honest, but now we have started a new campaign.
"It wasn't to be and we didn't finish on a high, but we have got a group of players who are hoping to push on.
"We are a tight-knit group and we are a confident bunch of players. We hope to get a good 2013 under way, starting with the Poland friendly."