Sunday 17 November 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Ireland's final squad for November fixtures adds weight to four long-held theories'

Ireland manager Mick McCarthy
Ireland manager Mick McCarthy
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE announcement of the final squad for Ireland’s games with New Zealand and Denmark adds weight to a number of long-held suspicions.

Firstly, it confirms that provisional squad announcements are a complete waste of time.

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Ryan Manning was the headline on the FAI press release from last Thursday, following on from an scouting report that suggested the QPR player was in line for involvement against New Zealand.

He has been culled in the reduction of the squad from 39 to 28, and the fuss around his inclusion in the long list is an embarrassing waste of his time. Doncaster’s Kieran Sadlier will have known not to get his hopes up after another false start.

Secondly, it suggests that Keiren Westwood and Shane Long really aren’t in Mick McCarthy’s plans at all. Darren Randolph must be on course for the November 18 showdown with Denmark, as otherwise McCarthy would surely have left the experienced Westwood on his list.

Then again, his attendance record has been mentioned in a negative context in dispatches. Kieran O’Hara and Mark Travers don’t have the experience of one of the better keepers in the Championship, but they do always show up.

Comments about Long being in his plans don’t really stand up to scrutiny when eight strikers have got the nod ahead of the Southampton attacker, although Ipswich’s Alan Judge was lumped into that category in the FAI missive.

Thirdly, James McCarthy’s decision to stay away in order to concentrate on getting fit at club level provides definitive proof that including the Glaswegian in bigger-picture debates about the future of the Irish midfield is pointless because his main priority is becoming a footballer again.

It will be a bonus if he ever returns.

And fourthly, it hammers home the reality that most of the debate around these squads is window dressing when – ultimately – there’s only around a handful of places up for grabs against the Danes.

McCarthy’s insistence that the crucial clash is no place for debutants means that he’s unlikely to be dramatically influenced by a starring show against New Zealand four days previously.

Troy Parrott’s inclusion is eye-catching and it would be fascinating if he made an impact, but he’s not going to be selected ahead of David McGoldrick when push comes to shove.

Aaron Connolly is further up the pecking order given he was involved in both matches last month and he may end up being considered as an alternative to James McClean, rather than a rival to McGoldrick, with no prospect of a 3-5-2 selection.

The involvement of Parrott and Connolly against New Zealand might help to shift a few tickets, but it’s not going to shift the manager’s mindset ahead of the crucial clash with Christian Eriksen and co.

Ciaran Clark’s recall is merited after he played his way back into the side at Newcastle.

However, it would be a surprise if McCarthy broke up the burgeoning partnership between Shane Duffy and John Egan.

Enda Stevens is first choice at left-full and the exclusion of Manning indicates that Derrick Williams is his understudy.

Seamus Coleman’s unavailability through suspension opens the door for Matt Doherty to finally get a run in the side.

He’s a slight injury doubt and therefore may not be risked against New Zealand. Lee O’Connor is in line for a debut before going to join up with the under-21 side.

Glenn Whelan will start in midfield once he shakes off a hamstring problem, and it’s a battle between Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane and Alan Browne for the two other places.

Josh Cullen and Jack Byrne starred against Bulgaria in September and it mattered little when the October matches came around.

With McGoldrick a vital part of the team and McClean v Connolly a likely debate, the major unknown surrounds the right side of midfield.

Callum Robinson has tried and failed to properly establish himself in that department.

Therefore, Robbie Brady’s return to fitness is timely and he can use the New Zealand match as a stepping stone to something bigger.

“His involvement is a real boost to us ahead of the match against Denmark because of the quality he brings to the team,” said McCarthy.

Brady’s last involvement was a late goal against Gibraltar in June. Callum O’Dowda is the other player worthy of mention given that his cameo in Switzerland was effective.

Of course, it’s not McCarthy’s fault that friendlies in his era don’t seem to have much purpose.

He’s got a short-term brief to bring Ireland to the finals, so building for the future isn’t really on the radar.

Post-Geneva, he expressed regret at tinkering with his formation and the message ahead of Denmark has been reasonably clear; it will be a back-to-basics approach. Driven by the tried and trusted.

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