IRELAND PLAY TURKEY this evening at Lansdowne Road, and while there will be a few notable absentees, by end-of-season friendly standards, Martin O’Neill has a decent selection available.
Here’s who we think he should go with…
Goalkeeper: David Forde — Darren Randolph has arguably been Ireland’s in-form goalkeeper at club level this season, but with the Birmingham stopper absent from the squad through injury, Forde is the natural choice for the number one spot.
Right-back: Seamus Coleman — O’Neill has hinted he could play three at the back at some point, which would presumably see Coleman switching to right wing-back, but O’Neill looks set to pick a more conventional line-up tonight at least.
Centre-back: John O’Shea — O’Neill yesterday confirmed that John O’Shea would captain the side, and the defender should go into the game full of confidence, having played an important role in Sunderland’s dramatic end-of-season revival.
Centre-back: Damien Delaney — There is a case to be made for Ciaran Clark becoming Ireland’s first-choice centre-back, given his relative youth and obvious potential, while Richard Dunne’s performance in the play-offs yesterday indicated he’s not ready to settle down just yet. Nevertheless, Delaney deserves his place at the moment owing to his inspiring performances in helping Palace to beat the drop this year.
Left-back: Marc Wilson — The Stoke defender has played much of this season at centre-back, however for now, he’ll surely have to be content with playing left-back for Ireland, given that alternative options there are relatively sparse.
Left wing: James McClean — Ireland have a number of players who can operate in this position, yet McClean is one of the team’s few natural wingers. He has impressed sporadically for Wigan this year, and probably still merits a starting spot whenever Martin O’Neill seeks to adopt a positive, attacking approach (or at least until Robbie Brady gets over his injury troubles).
Central midfield: Glenn Whelan — Under-appreciated by many fans and harshly singled out during the Trap regime when he was far from the only player underperforming, Whelan showed good character this season, regaining his place in the Stoke side having lost it initially under Mark Hughes.
(Hull midfielder David Meyler is expected to be available despite having initially been a doubt for the game)
Central midfield: David Meyler — James McCarthy is a near certainty to start in midfield for Ireland whenever fit, but the other midfield spot is seemingly up for grabs. Darron Gibson, Glenn Whelan and Meyler are probably the main candidates to fill that role, and the latter surely deserves his chance tonight (assuming he shakes off a minor injury problem), given his excellent form with Hull this season.
Attacking midfield: Wes Hoolahan — It’s been a season to forget for Wes Hoolahan, as he was largely ostracised from a Norwich team that was subsequently relegated. Nevertheless, he is surely a player Ireland can’t do without currently — only the injured Andy Reid comes close to providing the level of passing ability, creativity and comfort on the ball that the ex-Shels man offers.
Right wing: Aiden McGeady — McGeady has not exactly set the world alight since joining Everton, however that’s to be expected, given his lack of match fitness having missed out on first-team football for a considerable period in Russia. At his best, the 28-year-old remains a vital asset to the Ireland team, on account of his superior ball-carrying ability and tendency to think outside the box.
Striker: Shane Long — A decent finish to the season with Hull reminded us of Long’s qualities. He remains the Irish forward best suited to playing the lone frontman role, given his strength and mobility, even if he’s still not exactly prolific at the best of times.
Subs: Rob Elliot, Alex Pearce, Stephen Kelly, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward, Paul Green, Anthony Pilkington, Stephen Quinn, Daryl Murphy, Jon Walters, Anthony Stokes, Simon Cox.
What would your Ireland starting XI be? Let us know in the comments’ section below.