GREG CUNNINGHAM will miss out on the opportunity to make a real push to unseat Kevin Kilbane from the Ireland starting XI after breaking a leg on Saturday.
The Galway youngster, on loan at Leicester from Manchester City, suffered a miserable start to his New Year by incurring the injury following a challenge from Hull's Liam Rosenior, who was duly sent off, although he was exonerated by Foxes boss Sven-Goran Eriksson.
However, there is still a chance that Cunningham could make some form of return before the end of the season, with Eriksson putting a rough time-frame of four months on his absence. He is likely to return to Manchester City for the rehab process.
The broken tibia means that Cunningham will be absent from next month's Carling Nations Cup meeting with Wales, which would have provided him with another chance to add to his burgeoning reputation.
He will also miss March's Euro 2012 qualifier with Macedonia, a game that Giovanni Trapattoni might have been tempted to pitch him into given the experience he has gained at Championship level this season.
Trapattoni considered putting Cunningham in ahead of Kilbane for the start of this campaign, but reasoned that the 19-year-old didn't have enough experience. Yet he has shone consistently at Leicester, while Kilbane has fallen out of favour at Hull and moved down a division to play League One football with Huddersfield for the rest of this campaign.
The Italian may be tempted to look at other options for the position in the Welsh encounter.
Ciaran Clark made a goalscoring contribution from the role for Aston Villa in yesterday's 3-3 draw with Chelsea, further evidence of his versatility, even though his natural home is at centre-back. He is certain to be called into the squad for the Aviva Stadium fixture on February 8.
Another possibility is Wolves' Stephen Ward, who is still looking for his first cap. Injury has twice prevented him from taking up Trapattoni invitations, and Cunningham skipped ahead of the ex-Bohemians star in the queue.
Ward has reverted to his old role further up the pitch in recent weeks, but has spent the majority of Wolves' Premier League stint at left-back.
Trapattoni has also expressed an interest in trying out Preston left winger Keith Treacy in a defensive role, and Stephen Hunt has discussed dropping back as well due to the fierce competition for places in the wide midfield department.