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Boys in green have to stand up: Cox

THE EXIT of Richard Dunne from the international scene has left a big gap to fill in an Ireland squad that's now light on experience.

And Simon Cox says it's time for other members of the panel now to stand up and show leadership as the national team prepare for the next bout of qualification.

Even though he only made his debut in 2011, Cox is one of the more experienced members of Martin O'Neill's squad with 30 caps on his CV, and with players like Dunne, Damien Duff and Shay Given no longer on the scene to give guidance, Ireland need a new breed.

EXPERIENCED

"They were massive personalities and did incredibly well for Ireland, they are up there with the greats for Ireland. But now it's up the likes of myself, Shane Long, John O'Shea, David Forde, Stephen Kelly - the older generation - to step up and drag the younger members of the squad through," Cox told The Herald.

"We are the experienced players now, we have been there that bit longer. We will miss the leadership of lads like Dunne and Duffer, but we have to try.

"We're at the start of a new campaign now where we hope to be aggressive and competitive and that we can qualify. That starts in a couple of weeks and hopefully I can play a major part in that," added Cox, who moved clubs over the summer as he rejoined hometown club Reading from Nottingham Forest.

"The last campaign wasn't a great one for us but I think inexperience played a part in that. With what we have learned from that, and the extra qualification places on offer, I am optimistic about Euro 2016.

"It's more accessible for countries like us to try and qualify, and as a squad of players we know more about each other now, we have a core of players who have been together for a while and I feel we will be more competitive this time around.

"I haven't spoken to (Ireland manager) Martin (O'Neill) or (Ireland assistant manager) Roy (Keane) or any of the staff since the summer games so this week it's a matter of waiting to see if you're in the squad on Thursday when the manager announces it."

A great deal has changed since the Irish squad were last together, in the USA in June. Players like Cox, Keiren Westwood, Long, Paul Green, Stephen Ward and Anthony Pilkington have all changed jobs. And we have also had the World Cup finals, again going ahead without an Irish presence.

OPTIONS

"It's not nice, watching a major tournament on TV when you feel that you could have been part of it," Cox sighed.

"But the fact that countries like Mexico and Costa Rica did well in Brazil is good for nations like us, the World Cup showed that you can be a small country and still do well. Who'd have thought that Costa Rica and Uruguay would come out of a groups containing England and Italy?"

O'Neill and Keane will be doing a lot of scouting in England's second tier this season, especially for their attacking options as Long and Jon Walters are now the only Irish strikers in the Premier League.

"We have a lot of strikers competing in the Championship now but I feel it's an open door. The Championship is a competitive league - Martin and Roy will know that - so you have the likes of Daryl Murphy, Conor Sammon and Wes Hoolahan all there, Longy in the Premier League and Robbie in the MLS. Hopefully we can give the manager a selection headache, if we are all doing well it's only good for the country," added Cox, who has played in the last three internationals, against Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal, all appearances as a sub.

"I have enjoyed the experience under the manager so far. I missed the first game but have been in the squad for the last few friendlies, it was good to get in there and work under Martin and Roy. It is a bit more relaxed now but it will be intense and hard work once the qualifiers come around," added Cox.

"And I hope I have done enough to keep my place in the squad for the games we have on the way."

O'Neill will announce his squad tomorrow for the looming games against Oman and Georgia, the first qualifier in Tbilisi on September 7th.


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