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5 key battles for Ireland Euro 2016 squad places

David Meyler v Stephen Gleeson and other choices that may be made in the coming days.

Stephen Gleeson (left) is challenged by David Meyler back in 2012 during a Capital One Cup match.
Stephen Gleeson (left) is challenged by David Meyler back in 2012 during a Capital One Cup match.
Image: David Davies

LAST SATURDAY, MARTIN O’Neill confirmed a 33-man squad for the upcoming friendlies against Slovakia and Switzerland.

Barring players who are injured currently, it is expected that the 23-man Euro 2016 Ireland panel will be decided from the individuals who were named in Saturday’s final squad, which means some notable names, including Darron Gibson and Keiren Westwood, are likely to be excluded.

Moreover, roughly 16 players seem certain of a spot barring injury (Robbie Keane, John O’Shea, Jon Walters et al), so competition for the remaining few spots is likely to be intense.

Here are what we believe to be the spots up for grabs…

1. Goalkeeper: David Forde v Rob Elliot

Rob Elliot and David Forde Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Darren Randolph and a fit Shay Given seem almost certain to travel, so the third goalkeeping spot appears to be the only one up for grabs. Keiren Westwood’s exclusion from the latest squad has seemingly ended his hopes, barring an injury crisis, so it will likely come down to a battle between Forde and Elliot. The former started the qualifiers as Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper, though at 36, he is arguably past his peak, and is no longer first-choice in League One with Millwall. Consequently, the fact that Elliot is getting regular first-team Premier League football with Newcastle probably makes him slight favourite at this point.

Most likely choice: Rob Elliot

2. Full-back: Matt Doherty v Cyrus Christie

With Robbie Brady, Stephen Ward and Seamus Coleman all expected to travel, at least three full-back options appear to be covered. Derby’s Cyrus Christie seems to be the most likely candidate for the fourth spot, having played in two of the qualifiers, including the famous 1-0 win over Germany. However, former Bohemians youngster Matt Doherty has been in decent form for Wolves and has the ability to play across the backline, so cannot be ruled out for a surprise inclusion.

Most likely choice: Cyrus Christie

3. Centre-back: Paul McShane v Shane Duffy v Alex Pearce

Having made a number of appearances in the qualifiers, John O’Shea, Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark look odds-on to travel. The identity of the fourth centre-back is less certain though, with McShane, Duffy and Pearce all included in the current squad. Of the trio in question, Pearce may be at a disadvantage, having completed just one Championship match all season with Bristol City. Both McShane and Duffy have been in decent form for Reading and Blackburn respectively, with the latter linked with a Premier League move recently. Stoke’s Marc Wilson, currently out injured, is also a strong contender for a spot. Despite his dearth of first-team action this season, Wilson’s ability to double up as a left-back could sway Martin O’Neill, while he is also the only one of the four who featured in the qualifiers.

Most likely choice: Paul McShane

4. Central midfield: David Meyler v Stephen Gleeson v Eunan O’Kane

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Alan Judge, Anthony Pilkington, David Meyler, Seamus Coleman and Stephen Gleeson Alan Judge, Anthony Pilkington, David Meyler, Seamus Coleman and Stephen Gleeson. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Having been left out by Martin O’Neill up until now, Stephen Gleeson’s inclusion in the 33-man squad was somewhat of a surprise. The 27-year-old midfielder would be considered a classic bolter if he does end up on the plane to France. The same could be said for Bournemouth’s Eunan O’Kane, who has yet to be capped by Ireland at senior level, and has only featured sporadically for his side in the Premier League this year. Meyler, meanwhile, is the most conservative and expected pick. The Cork native has earned 14 caps already, and his impressive performance as a makeshift right-back away to Germany in the qualifiers is also likely to work in his favour. Despite being ruled out for the upcoming games, Bournemouth’s Harry Arter’s impressive Premier League performances this season are unlikely to have gone unnoticed either.

Most likely choice: David Meyler

5. Winger/attacking midfielder: Aiden McGeady v Alan Judge v Jonny Hayes v Anthony Pilkington v Stephen Quinn

Notwithstanding his excellent performances for Aberdeen this season, Hayes very much seems like the weakest contender here, particularly given that Martin O’Neill tends to prefer playing with a number 10 rather than an out-and-out winger these days. Anthony Pilkington also seems like very much of an outside bet, having last played for Ireland in the USA friendly in November 2014. Judge v McGeady should be a tighter contest, given their contrasting fortunes at club level this season. Martin O’Neill has said domestic form will be a big factor in picking the squad, so his well-known long-time admiration for McGeady may well be tested, though much could depend on how the two players perform in a green shirt in the coming days. Despite featuring a couple of times in the qualifiers, Stephen Quinn’s squad place could also be at risk, with the likes of Judge outshining him in the Championship.

Most likely choice: Aiden McGeady

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