Thursday 22 March 2018

EURO 2016: Our writers pick their Ireland starting team for crunch Italy clash

Ireland team huddle ahead of the match against Belgium
Ireland team huddle ahead of the match against Belgium

Ireland go into tomorrow's crunch Euro 2016 clash against Italy knowing only a win will do if we are to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.

There has been plenty of speculation about who Martin O'Neill will start following last Saturday's poor showing against Belgium. The likes of Stephen Quinn, Daryl Murphy, Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy have all been mooted as possible starters in Lille tomorrow night.

Here, writers have selected their preferred starting 11.


GOALKEEPER - Darren Randolph

Randolph has been solid thus far for Ireland although his distribution against Belgium was questionable at times.

RIGHT FULL - Seamus Coleman

Yet again we are left wondering why Coleman's performances for Everton are not replicated in a green jersey. A world-class performance is long overdue and Coleman is certainly capable of that.

CENTRE HALF - Shane Duffy

Now is not the time for a conservative selection. Duffy has yet to start a competitive game for Ireland but it's do or die and the big, strong Blackburn man - who partnered O'Shea with ease against Holland - offers a threat from set pieces and solidity at the back.


The Sunderland man has, harshly, attracted some criticism following the Belgium massacre. His leadership and experience will be vital against Italy.

LEFT FULL - Robbie Brady

Linked up brilliantly with his former St Kevin's team-mate Jeff Hendrick against Sweden. If it's not broke...


The Derry man will bring energy and enthusiasm. With Walters clearly not fit to start, McClean will be eager to make a mark.


Ireland will need a defence-minded holding midfielder to compliment a diamond formation and this is where Whelan thrives.


Three games in 10 days? Hoolahan himself says he is ready to face the Italians and that's good enough for me. The industrious playmaker is essential for Martin O'Neill as the Boys In Green go in search of something we don't often find in European Championships - goals.


As previously alluded to, Hendrick and Brady were a real positive in the Sweden match with the latter looking dangerous cutting in onto his favoured right foot.

STRIKER - Shane Long

He may not start according to some reports but, hopefully, that is nonsense. His Euro 2016 has yet to catch fire, although you may have wrongly heard that it did. With Daryl Murphy up with him, Long will have less frustration and, hopefully, more ball to run on to.

STRIKER - Daryl Murphy

Shane Long is at his best when he is running onto balls, directly at goal. Murphy, with his strength and good hold-up play, can be the man to feed the Southampton striker.

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GOALKEEPER - Darren Randolph

Faultless for the four goals Ireland have conceded in the competition to date and should definitely retain his place tomorrow night.

RIGHT BACK - Seamus Coleman

Apart from his terrific assist for Wes Hoolahan against the Swedes, it's been sub-par stuff from the Killybegs man. Exposed on the fight flank.


Another who couldn't be faulted for the performance against the Belgians.

CENTRE BACK - Shane Duffy

The Derry native formed a good partnership with O'Shea in the friendly against the Dutch and it should be reinstated.

LEFT BACK - Robbie Brady

Brady had more time on the ball against the Swedes from full-back and he would revert him back into defence,


The ever-present in the Irish middle does exactly what it says on the tin. We'll need his battling qualities.


A controversial call but in a game against superior opposition, I pick him ahead of Meyler and Quinn.

LEFT MIDFIELD - Jeff Hendrick

Arguably the player of the tournament for us  thus far and if Brady is moved back, it will give them more of a chance of linking up on the left like they did against the Swedes.


I think Aiden McGeady might have more impact from the bench than the West Brom man. He should start and run himself to a standstill.


The hero from the Sweden game was not nearly as effective in Bordeaux. Hopefully he will have the energy to recreate his best form.

STRIKER - Shane Long

Got no support on Saturday. Ireland need to get on some second balls in opposition territory. The alternatives are either not good enough to start or no longer good enough to start.

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GOALKEEPER - Darren Randolph

Can't be faulted for the goals that Ireland have conceded so far. Made an excellent save when called upon against Sweden and deserves a chance to see out the group stage.

RIGHT FULL - Seamus Coleman

If there was a capable replacement, the Everton defender might be under pressure for his place. His assist for Wes Hooalahan's Sweden goal aside, Coleman has massively underperformed during Euro 2016.

CENTRE BACK - Richard Keogh

Keogh performed excellently in the qualification run-in, and deserves an opportunity at the heart of the Irish defence.

CENTRE BACK - Shane Duffy

It would be harsh on John O'Shea to drop him, but at 24, Duffy is one of the squad's younger members and it is important that Ireland leave this tournament with an idea of what the next crop of players can do.

LEFT FULL - Robbie Brady

Brady has been one of Ireland's better performers. Ideally you would like him to be further forward, but Ireland need him at left back due to a lack of alternative options.


Whelan had a very tough task in breaking up the star-studded Belgian attack, and unsurprisingly, he struggled to replicate his strong opening performance. He should be better equipped to cope with Italy's weakened XI. It might be asking too much of him to anchor the midfield on his own, but given McCarthy's struggles, he was more or less doing that anyway.

LEFT MIDFIELD - Jeff Hendrick

Like a lot of Irish players, Hendrick was unable to match his stellar opening effort when faced with improved opposition. Still, he was Ireland's most potent attacking threat against Sweden and can definitely be the difference-maker against Italy.


Hoolahan was crowded out by the Belgians regularly and was ponderous on the ball outside the box on the rare occasion when he did manage to break free. The big question for the Italy game is whether the 34-year-old can play three games in such a short space of time. It is worth risking him simply because Ireland need a goal and Hoolahan is still as likely as anyone to make the breakthrough.


McClean hasn't made any impact on Ireland's Euro 2016 campaign yet but this is his chance. One of his trademark thundering tackles in the opening exchanges would hopefully set the tone for a memorable performance.

STRIKER - Shane Long

Long has run his socks off in Ireland's two games for absolutely no reward but he is still the best striking option that the team have. If the service to the Southampton forward improves, he could still light up Ireland's tournament.

STRIKER - Daryl Murphy

Murphy's inclusion is to help Long as much as anything else - the Ipswich striker hasn't scored in any of 20 international caps. The presence of a big targetman should hopefully see Long get on the end of a few knockdowns rather than chasing aimless long passes all day.

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GOALKEEPER - Darren Randolph

Apart from the fact that Randolph has been largely admirable when called upon, it is far too late in the day to be tinkering with such vital a position.

RIGHT BACK - Seamus Coleman

The Donegal man has not been the player we know he can but he hardly stands alone of  that particular indictment. The Italian’s conditioning, a prerequisite of the exacting Antonio Conte, is among the best in the tournament so Coleman’s pace and dynamism will likely be vital if Ireland are to prevail.

CENTRE HALF - Shane Duffy

The hulking Derryman is confident, imposing and a threat from set pieces, while Ciaran Clark is worryingly error prone.


In any other circumstance Richard Keogh would get the nod, but O’Shea is in receipt of over a decade of international football and, when it suits, he has a habit of scoring pivotal goals.

LEFT FULL - Cyrus Christie

Admittedly, this is an unorthodox pick, but potentially a prescient one. The Derby defender is brave, athletic and doesn’t give the impression of a man who will wilt when the pressure inevitably comes on. Predominantly a right full, Christie has operated on the opposite flank at club level.

RIGHT WING - Wes Hoolahan

Ireland’s playmaker can start on the right wing, if only ostensibly. His remit will allow for cutting inside to act as the primary conduit, but he’ll also be required to get high and tight on one of Italy’s three centre backs, should they continue with the 3-5-2 formation. Furthermore, his radar is honed enough to frequently find Coleman on the overlap.


While boldness is now an imperative for Martin O’Neill, throwing the baby out with the bathwater would be foolish. Allow Whelan to buttress the defence and be appropriately stationed when Ireland are bombarded by counter attacks.


The Dubliner has impressed sporadically thus far, if in positions that don’t fully cater to his talents. The right side of a diamond is fine but asking him to play as a quasi-winger, as was the case against Belgium, is simply wrong.

With Whelan quite content to never set foot in Italy’s half, Hendrick is free to inhabit the role of a buccaneering box-to-box midfielder. He certainly has the gas tank for it.

LEFT WING - Robbie Brady

Brady should play as a good old fashioned left winger who, thankfully, has the defensive nous to adequately protect Christie. Like Hoolahan, he will cut inside to link play, but also hug that touchline and utilise his cultured left boot. Finding Duffy shouldn’t be a problem.

STRIKER - Shane Long

Perhaps the most deflating aspect of Belgium’s thumping of Ireland was watching Long dutifully chase hoofed passes that were, at best, speculative. Not once did he waver in his assignment, all the while receiving a thorough shellacking from the Belgian defence.

With a little assistance- or any for that matter- the Southampton striker can stretch and hurt Italy and, this time, he’ll have help.

STRIKER - James McClean

It’s time to put the cat amongst the pigeons. McClean, deployed as second centre forward, is the wildcard. Roy Keane has asked for bite, balls and blood, and McClean is the very man for the job. He’ll run, harry and disrupt all day and, should it be required, is interchangeable with Hoolahan and Brady.

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Online Editors

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