Saturday 17 August 2019

Could this be the Ireland team for the Euro 2020 qualifiers?

With Ireland braced for an exodus not seen for 20 years, John Fallon surveys new blood for Euros

Kevin Long and (inset) Declan Rice
Kevin Long and (inset) Declan Rice
West Ham and Ireland player Declan Rice. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Suddenly, after the game-by-game myopia of the past 10 weeks, the long-term outlook has become more pressing.

A glut of retirements, coupled with some of the remaining squad drifting into their thirties by the time of the next Euro campaign kicking off in 15 months, hasten the search for bodies to fill the cavity, both on the pitch and the bench.

Whether left-back Stephen Ward decides to be part of that exodus, he's likely to be displaced by Cyrus Christie once Seamus Coleman regains his fitness and right-back post. Elsewhere on the pitch, Callum O'Dowda's credentials to nab a wide spot have been enhanced by his cameos in the campaign against Moldova (home and away), Serbia and his start in Copenhagen last Saturday.

It is in attack, however, where the depth of options is alarming. Unless Anthony Stokes undergoes another renaissance that lasts into an international gathering, then only Championship pair Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire appear to be the challengers to Shane Long.

If the Southampton striker is even still a Premier League player when the qualifiers start at the age of 32, or possesses the same level of pace, is doubtful.

Beyond that, we are reliant on Alan Judge recapturing the form he showed before his horrendous leg break, Liam Kelly continuing his progress at Reading and Matt Doherty emulating Harry Arter by becoming a Premier League player through promotion.

New entrants will ensue, the most likely being West Ham United duo Declan Rice and Josh Cullen. They've been central to an encouraging start to the European Championship qualification campaign for Ireland's Under-21s. Despite a late loss to Norway on Tuesday, Noel King's side remain second in their group at the midway point.

Still, blooding prospective senior internationals is the priority and they've to undertake the necessary integration throughout next year preparing for the more serious business to start in March 2019.

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Others may emerge from the shadows. Jack Byrne was once the golden boy of the Under-21s, establishing himself as a regular in his teens, but can't even get into the squad nowadays in his own age-group. He's getting his act together under the radar at Oldham Athletic.

The realistic, yet predictable, downside is that any notion a player emerging from a hothouse into the calibre of Christen Eriksen is non-existent. In fact, there are very few candidates to match the cream of what resulted from the last radical overhaul almost 20 years ago in the provincial Czech Republic town of Olomouc.

Shorn of legends Andy Townsend, Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge, who had all retired during or after the quest to reach the World Cup in France that year, Mick McCarthy had to start afresh.

Plucked Damien Duff, part of the Under-20 team which won bronze at the World Cup the previous year, was handed his debut alongside Mark Kinsella, Rory Delap, Alan Maybury and Graham Kavanagh. Ireland's all-time top goalscorer Robbie Keane was plucked from the bench too.

"We'll probably discover over the next week or two how many of the senior players retire and it gives a great opportunity to breed new talent," said Kinsella yesterday.

"That was how six broke through in 1998 and, 20 years later, the same will probably have to happen."

Amid the gloomy fallout from Tuesday's annihilation, Kinsella doesn't see the need for panic. He's been part of the backroom staff with the Under-21s for over a year now and feels potential successors are available to plug the gaps.

"Whatever about going straight into the seniors, some of the Under-21s are certainly good enough to be looked at in training," he noted.

Possible squad for 2020 Euros - Ages players will be at that time included in brackets

Goalkeeper

Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough) 31.

Defence:

Seamus Coleman (Everton) 30.

Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion) 27.

Kevin Long (Burnley) 28.

Cyrus Christie (Middlesbrough) 26.

Midfield:

Robbie Brady (Burnley) 27.

Declan Rice (West Ham Utd) 20.

Jeff Hendrick (Burnley) 27.

James McClean (West Bromwich Albion) 29.

Strikers:

Sean Maguire (Preston North End) 24.

Scott Hogan (Aston Villa) 26.

Subs:

Harry Arter (Bournemouth) 29,

Tommie Hoban (Watford) 25,

Josh Cullen (West Ham Utd) 22,

Kieran O’Hara (Man United) 22.

Shane Long (Southampton) 32.

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