'I think he's one of our best players but he's not playing games' - Mick McCarthy dissects midfield options
The first squad announcement of the Mick McCarthy era was strikingly similar to the Martin O'Neill years.
Similar in the sense that it wasn't really a squad announcement at all. Just a long list of names from which the final panel will be picked. McCarthy has indicated that he will travel light to Gibraltar in a fortnight's time, bringing just 23 men with him.
If he sticks by that statement, then 15 members of the provisional 38-man squad will receive bad news next week.
Indeed, if Callum Robinson makes a quicker than expected recovery at Preston then there might be a 39th face in the picture.
The returning boss will face some tricky decisions when it comes to that process. This was an exercise which allowed him to let players know he's in their thoughts.
Naturally, it's a massive moment in the careers of James Collins and Pádraig Amond who are tearing it up with Luton and Newport in League One and League Two respectively. They aren't in the door yet, though.
It may also be dangerous to read too much into the recalls for Aiden McGeady and Glenn Whelan, although it was notable that the latter was pinpointed by McCarthy as a player that can fulfil a specific sitting midfield role.
He is short of alternatives in that department, with the manager making it clear that James McCarthy is unlikely to make the final 23 unless he gets some minutes under his belt across the next week.
"I need to see him play 90 minutes," he said. "I think he's one of our best players but he's not playing games. And I just don't think it's appropriate (to be in squad) if you're not playing games. And I've told him that."
Whelan never actually retired from international football, but O'Neill seemed keen to phase him out.
"He is fit and playing in the Championship so I'm not going to dismiss him," continued the 60-year-old, assessing his defensive midfield options in light of his namesake's inactivity at Everton and Declan Rice's defection.
"I think in a (midfield) three. Conor Hourihane did sit for Villa for a while but is better as a forward player. Alan Browne has got 11 goals so he is not one.
"Jeff Hendrick has been playing wide right and is another who can get into the box and score a goal. Glenn is a sitter, that's job he does. If there is a specific role in a specific game, he can do that job."
That game may be Denmark in June as opposed to the challenge presented by Gibraltar or the Georgians.
David McGoldrick will be making the journey with McCarthy keen for the Sheffield United player to show what he can do at this level.
He was in charge of Ipswich when McGoldrick's form attracted Premier League attention from Leicester. However, he never pushed on with Ireland. At first, injuries were the issue. Then, there was a fallout with O'Neill.
It's safe to assume that the 31-year-old will have more joy in this regime, and Preston's Seán Maguire will be in the picture too.
Scott Hogan is on loan at Sheffield United with McGoldrick and might struggle to make the 23 given he's barely played at Bramall Lane.
Collins (28) and Amond (30) bring the form angle to the table and they will desperate to seize an opportunity now given that it appears that Patrick Bamford is ready to come into the picture.
The 25-year-old has age on his side, but his injury record is more troubling.
In truth, the update on the Leeds attacker's position was the closest thing to news from this gathering with McCarthy clearly anxious to move beyond the talking and get stuck into the serious action.
He's been encouraged by the discussions he's had with players, but the real decisions will be made once the group are in camp.
"They must all be wanting to come in and play," he said.
"The same way I wanted to be in the squad when I played. The same desire to play as part of an aggressive Irish team that people don't like playing against, with the ball and without the ball."
Provisional Ireland squad
(v Gibraltar on March 23 and Georgia on March 26)
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Kieran O'Hara (Macclesfield Town*), Mark Travers (Bournemouth)
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Richard Keogh (Derby County), John Egan (Sheffield United), Shane Duffy (Brighton & Hove Albion), Kevin Long (Burnley), Jimmy Dunne (Sunderland*), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Derrick Williams (Blackburn Rovers), Stephen Ward (Burnley)
Midfielders: Aiden McGeady (Sunderland), Alan Judge (Ipswich Town), James McCarthy (Everton), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Harry Arter (Cardiff City*), Glenn Whelan (Aston Villa), David Meyler (Coventry City*), Shaun Williams (Millwall), Robbie Brady (Burnley), Callum O'Dowda (Bristol City), James McClean (Stoke City), Daryl Horgan (Hibernian)
Forwards: Shane Long (Southampton), Seán Maguire (Preston North End), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth), Scott Hogan (Sheffield United*), Aiden O'Brien (Millwall), David McGoldrick (Sheffield United), James Collins (Luton Town), Pádraig Amond (Newport County)
*Indicates player is on loan