Murray leads charge as King's starlets urge dream team to put faith in youth
ONCE the Ireland dressing-room door is closed in Poznan late tomorrow night and the players board their bus, the real work for the new management team will begin.
Martin O'Neill's penchant for unleashing rookies has been the hallmark of his career – think Liam Miller from his Celtic tenure, Ciaran Clark for Aston Villa and James McClean at Sunderland as Irish examples – and the abundance of time on his hands suggests that an exhaustive trawl will be mounted.
Assistant manager Roy Keane said last week he was already surveying the fixture lists for club games to attend.
Given how freely he changed personnel at Sunderland, recruiting 25 players during a season and a half as Premier League boss, the Corkman carries a reputation for swiftly looking elsewhere in the pursuit of improvement.
A cohort of uncapped possibilities have emerged in recent weeks, English-born Hull City defender Curtis Davies being the most prominent, and more players eligible through the ancestral route will surface, thanks to the magnetic appeal of Ireland's new management team.
Watching developments closely will be a clutch of Northern-born players, ready to follow the lead of Shane Duffy and McClean in declaring for the Republic.
While O'Neill has showed due respect to the country he captained at the 1982 World Cup by categorically insisting that approaches won't be initiated from his side, he's not averse to facilitating the movement.
However, it's from the U-21s that O'Neill and Keane are most probably looking to expand their options.
Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick both progressed from the current U-21 squad to the seniors under Giovanni Trapattoni, and O'Neill asked Noel King last week whether any more gems were ripe for fast-tracking.
A few hours before the new era got under way at Lansdowne Road, the U-21s beat the Faroe Islands 5-2 in Sligo. Though the opposition gave the result some perspective, the youngsters still managed to exceed the tally put past the islanders by Germany and Montenegro in the same European Championship qualification campaign.
Striker Aiden O'Brien grabbed a brace, but it was the creativity of Sean Murray, Samir Carruthers and Jack Grealish that really caught the eye. Of them, Murray is the best positioned for an immediate promotion, having gained significant Championship experience with Watford over the past two years.
Grealish (below) – recently turned 18 – rejected England's advances earlier this year to stay with Ireland and harbours ambitions of gaining full caps.
Not since 1998, when Damien Duff and Robbie Keane were handed debuts by Mick McCarthy in the Czech Republic, has a teen exploded onto the scene.
Grealish is far too modest to be forecasting such a seismic step for himself, but he feels the new supremos should give youth its chance during the experimentation phase that's coming.
"In my opinion, there are players in our U-21 squad well capable of stepping up to the seniors," said Grealish.
"It's a brilliant appointment for us younger players and we've all got some time to impress."
The U-21s face Montenegro tomorrow, and a glance at the teams from the last meeting of the nations at this level in Podgorica six years ago supports the view that predicting the future for tyros carries a health warning.
Out of Ireland's starting XI that day, only one player – Stephen Quinn – is operating in the Premier League, while just two, Keith Treacy and Richard Keogh, ply their trade in the Championship.
All too frequently, career choices influence the international pathway for rookies.
Transfers to the Championship, for instance, were mooted in the cases of Aaron Doran and Gavin Gunning over the summer but they opted to remain in Scotland, where they remain very much out of sight and, probably, out of mind as well.