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5 players we'd like to see named in the Ireland squad today

Jack Grealish and others who’ll be hoping to get a call from the management team.

Jack Grealish featured for Aston Villa at the weekend.
Jack Grealish featured for Aston Villa at the weekend.

1. Jack Grealish

ASTON VILLA TEENAGER Jack Grealish is eligible for both England and Ireland, though he has represented the latter at youth level.

The 18-year-old made his second appearance for Villa at the weekend (he made his senior debut coming off the bench in an end-of-season clash at Man City last May), looking composed and well at home in the Premier League during his 20-minute cameo in their impressive 1-0 victory away to Stoke.

Grealish’s England links (he was born in Birmingham and the English FA are understood to be keen on acquiring the player) mean Martin O’Neill may need to act quickly in order to secure his services. That said, with Roy Keane now at Villa Park, the Corkonian will know better than most if Grealish is ready for international football, yet judging by how assured he looked at the weekend, making the step up shouldn’t prove a problem.

With midfield arguably the area in which Ireland are best covered, the youngster will probably need to wait a few years before he becomes a permanent fixture in the side (and of course, assuming he realises his undoubted potential), but there is no harm in bringing him into the set-up at this early stage and seeing how he performs with relatively little at stake in the upcoming Oman friendly.

2. Darren Randolph

A number of injuries, in addition to being regularly overlooked by various managers, means the 27-year-old Randolph currently has just two Ireland caps, one of which was actually earned the last time Ireland played Oman in September 2012.

However, Randolph was arguably the most in-form Irish goalkeeper last year, enjoying an excellent season in the Championship with Birmingham, as he featured in all 46 of their matches, while gaining significant accolades along the way.

Nevertheless, the Bray native was again forced to withdraw from Ireland’s summer friendlies after initially being called up and so, his lack of familiarity with the set-up may count against him when Martin O’Neill comes to name his squad.

That said, with alternatives such as Rob Elliot currently not getting first-team football, Randolph certainly deserves to make the cut based purely on club form at least.

3. Mark Noble

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Ipswich Town v West Ham United - Portman Road Source: Stephen Pond

(Mark Noble was an ever-present in West Ham’s midfield last season)

The West Ham star has not exactly seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of representing Ireland and ostensibly would prefer to be involved in the England set-up, having featured for the Three Lions at underage level.

Nevertheless, Martin O’Neill is said to be a keen admirer of Noble, while the player was the one consistent element of a relatively inconsistent West Ham side last season, featuring in all 38 of their games.

The Irish management team may have to engage in some gentle persuasion to enable Noble to come on board (if they haven’t already), but at 27 and with hopes fading of an England call-up, the Londoner could finally fancy one or two last chances to be involved in a major international tournament.

Of course, if Noble did declare for Ireland, he would by no means be an automatic starter, with decent alternatives already available in central midfield, such as Darron Gibson and James McCarthy.

However, Ireland can never have too many regular Premier League players at their disposal, so including the Londoner in the squad would surely be beneficial for the team ultimately.

4. Cillian Sheridan

25-year-old Cavan native Cillian Sheridan would undoubtedly be a surprise pick, given that he has just three caps since making his Ireland debut in 2010.

There have clearly been more talented players to represent Ireland than Sheridan, but compared to some of the alternatives that have been selected in recent squads, he surely deserves consideration.

Sheridan has been in good form of late for APOEL, and along with Anthony Stokes, he is the only Irish player still in the Champions League, netting the odd impressive goal along the way.

Moreover, Sheridan is a big, awkward striker — a figure rare enough in the national team set-up nowadays — who would potentially complement less physical strikers such as Robbie Keane nicely. The same could be also be said of Leon Best, of course, who — interestingly from an Irish perspective — now is ahead of Conor Sammon in the Derby County pecking order (albeit he’s still being used largely from the bench).

5. Stephen Ireland

Granted, Stephen Ireland comes with considerable baggage, but the Boys in Green are not a big footballing nation. Martin O’Neill’s side can’t afford to simply rule out talented players primarily because of reservations about their personality.

And make no mistake, Stephen Ireland is a talented player, indeed he is arguably one of the most naturally gifted Irish players currently competing in the Premier League.

The concern, of course, is his application, and whether he still has the potential to recapture the type of form that saw him score nine goals in 35 Premier League appearances for Man City as a 22-year-old.

Yet after so many lost years thereafter, as he threatened to fade into complete obscurity (not helped, of course, by a series of injuries), last season was a step in the right direction for the enigmatic star. Ireland featured 25 times in the 2013-14 campaign for Stoke — the most appearances he’s made since that memorable 2008-09 campaign — earning praise from manager Mark Hughes, as well as a new contract, for his efforts.

Therefore, surely someone like Roy Keane, who once said he’d camp outside Ireland’s house to persuade him to make an Irish comeback, is eager to convince his fellow Corkonian to return to the Ireland fold and provide the squad with some much-needed flair.

Ireland has taken severe flak over the years for his reluctance to turn out for the national team — and he hasn’t helped his cause either by certain infamous, ill-judged comments — but Keane knows better than most what it’s like to be regarded as a misfit and treated with disdain by a considerable portion of the Irish public. So perhaps he will assess the situation with a sympathetic eye.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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