Padraig Amond and James Collins to get the nod as Mick McCarthy names first Ireland squad
Pádraig Amond is set to complete a stellar season today by earning his first senior international call-up amongst an enlarged squad to be named by new Ireland manager Mick McCarthy.
His provisional panel for the opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia later month isn't expected to reach the 35-player mark peaked by predecessor Martin O'Neill for his final selection last November but Amond will be one of the few new faces.
Despite operating in the fourth division of English football for Newport County and turning 31 next month, the Carlow native is at present Ireland's top marksman.
Goals scored against Leicester City and Manchester City in the FA Cup have helped bulge his tally so far this term to 21 and though McCarthy last week appeared to downplay his international credentials, the fairytale campaign looks to be materialising.
Whether Amond survives the final cut on Sunday week for the trip to Gibraltar on March 23 is a different matter. James Collins, another uncapped striker, would have a better claim on final inclusion, given his 20 goals have come for League One leaders Luton Town.
Scrambling around the lower tiers for firepower is a far cry from when McCarthy named the first squad in his first tenure back in 1996. Unless he gets positive vibes from Patrick Bamford or, even less likely, Nathan Redmond, about switching allegiance, the 60-year-old stalwart will content himself sourcing a hitman at any level he can find.
For now, Irish fans can be glad that David McGoldrick will relish playing under a manager who extracted the best of him during their spell together at Ipswich. Seán Maguire is another attacking option for the double-header which culminates in the visit of Georgia on March 26 but there are doubts over Shane Long's standing in McCarthy's pecking order. James McCarthy's non-appearance for Everton's U-23s against Liverpool earlier this week suggests he's a long way off convincing the manager of his readiness for competitive action.
Alan Browne and Conor Hourihane, a pair of goalscoring midfielders in the Championship, will be granted the stage to put their couple of underwhelming early displays in an Ireland shirt behind them.
Familiar faces, rather than a glut of rookies or wild-cards, will be the order of today, with the pragmatist of a manager confident he can gain most by getting the likes of Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick back to an optimal level in an Ireland shirt.
Graduates from the last U-21 squad won't be plentiful either, Jimmy Dunne is in with the best shout, but McCarthy could turn to a steady performer from his Wolves days, Richard Stearman, albeit not at the expense of another Sheffield United centre-back, John Egan.