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Christmas report card: how Ireland's football stars fared this year

We rate every member of the Irish team based on the past 12 months and determine how likely each individual is to become key to Martin O’Neill’s plans.

IT HAS BEEN far from the best of years for the Ireland side. Indeed, much of 2013 has been relatively depressing from a supporter’s perspective, owing to the side’s many dismal performances and tame failure to qualify for the World Cup.

On the bright side however, the year did end on an positive note. The appointment of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane brought renewed optimism to the set-up, while the performances of James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman of late have given hope that the future of Irish football may not be as bleak as it previously appeared.

With that in mind, we’ve rated each individual player’s year in the style of a school report card.

Keep in mind that we’re focusing on players who are both eligible for the team currently and who appear to have at least somewhat of a realistic chance of playing a part in Martin O’Neill’s plans (so sorry Darren O’Dea, Enda Stevens and Keith Andrews).

The players’ likelihood of starting Ireland’s first competitive game under their new manager is also assessed from a choice of three categories — ‘probable,’ ‘possible’ and ‘outside chance.’

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(INPHO/Donall Farmer)

David Forde: Forde was disappointing in the vital qualifier against Sweden and was at fault for at least one of the goals. However, he partially made up for it by helping Ireland keep the score down against Germany. B -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Keiren Westwood: Did relatively well when called up, though has yet to be fully tested in an Ireland shirt. Regained his place in the Sunderland side following Mignolet’s departure but then lost it again. C +

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Darren Randolph: A regular in the Championship with Birmingham this season, Randolph is definitely worth considering for the number 1 Irish jersey in the long term given Forde’s age and Westwood’s struggles to acquire regular first-team football. B

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Joey O’Brien: Hasn’t been picked by Sam Allardyce with the same level of consistency as last season and has again largely been overlooked in the Irish set-up. C

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Richard Dunne: Recovered well from a long-term injury to become a key part of QPR’s promotion push, helping them earn the best defensive record in the Championship this season, though he appeared to lack match sharpness for Ireland in the games with Sweden and Austria. B

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Probable

John O’Shea: Was one of the better players in a poor Sunderland team, and generally performed reasonably well when called upon at international level. B

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Probable

Sean St Ledger: Out of favour at Leicester due to injuries and loss of confidence, while he hasn’t figured much for Ireland either. Will be fortunate to retain a place in Martin O’Neill’s squad on current form. D

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Richard Keogh: Continues to perform well for a Derby side pushing for promotion from the Championship, though has still found his Irish chances frustratingly limited. B

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Alex Pearce: Called up to the Ireland squad for the friendlies with Latvia and Poland and played roughly half an hour in the latter game in an appearance so fleeting that it would be unfair to judge him based on that occasion. In addition, he signed a new contract with Reading in summer and has subsequently helped them rise towards the play-off positions in the Championship. B

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Damien Delaney: Didn’t look out of place when handed a start against Germany and couldn’t be faulted for any of the goals. Probably worth a place in  the squad when fit, particularly as he’s been one of the better players in a struggling Palace team. B

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Paul  McShane: Not as bad a player as his awful reputation among certain Ireland fans indicates, McShane started the year brightly with Hull — many of the club’s fans even suggested him as a candidate for their Player of the Year. However, he has found first-team opportunities harder to come by since their arrival in the Premier League. B -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

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(INPHO/Donall Farmer)

Ciaran Clark: Hasn’t always been picked by Villa and has at times been asked to play in an unfamiliar full-back position. Still, given that he plays regularly enough in the Premier League, he is surely a player Martin O’Neill can’t afford to ignore. B -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Stephen Kelly: Kelly has not always been a regular starter for Reading and was at fault for one of Ireland’s goals in a rare outing against Germany. Needs to do better if he is to remain part of Martin O’Neill’s plans. C +

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Seamus Coleman: It now seems incredible that Coleman didn’t make Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad, as he has become a player impossible to ignore. Has consistently improved and become an important part of an impressive Everton side as well. A

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Probable

Stephen Ward: Suffered disappointment after being relegated with Wolves, but has since bounced back to become a first-team regular with Brighton. Also performed reasonably on his return to the Ireland team recently. B -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Robbie Brady: Has been one of Hull’s best players as they’ve exceeded expectations in the Premier League this year. Injuries and Trap’s reluctance to pick him meant he didn’t get much of a chance to impress at international level. A -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Wes Hoolahan: The midfielder looked impressive when given a chance with Ireland, which makes it all the more frustrating that he has received very little game time with Norwich this year. C -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

David Meyler: Enjoyed possibly his best footballing year ever, helping Hull get promoted and impressing in the Premier League. He could be an important player for Ireland under Martin O’Neill if he manages to stay injury free. B +

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Stephen Quinn: Performed well in helping Hull get promoted and showed some nice touches amid the minimal game time he’s received with Ireland. Has had his chances restricted in the Premier League though, partially due to injury. B -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Marc Wilson: Was poor in Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Sweden and was tried out in a number of positions for club and country, but he remains O’Neill’s best option at left-back. C +

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Probable

Paul Green: A limited player who did reasonably well by his standards when asked to play at international level, though he hasn’t been getting much game time with Leeds of late. With Ireland now having the promising likes of Gibson, McCarthy, Meyler and potentially Mark Noble (not forgetting Whelan and Hendrick too), it will surely be tough for Green to make the squad if everyone is fit. C +

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

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(INPHO/Morgan Treacy)

Aiden McGeady: Injury meant he missed Ireland’s vital World Cup qualifiers, yet his performances in Martin O’Neill’s first two games in charge suggest he will still have an important role to play in the side in future. He was also transfer listed by Spartak Moscow despite being a fan favourite there and so, it’ll be interesting to discover what his next move will be. B

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Probable

Jeff Hendrick: Was a regular for Derby last year, and continued where he left off this season before suffering an ankle injury that ruled him out for 12 weeks. The 21-year-old midfielder has also looked impressive on the rare occasions he’s been given a chance for Ireland and looks a very decent prospect for the future. B +

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

James McCarthy: Got the big-money move to Everton that he needed, and has since proved to be a worthy addition to the side. He has also been one of Ireland’s better players, though the suspicion remains that he has more to offer at international level. A

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Probable

Stephen Hunt: Without a club for much of this season after being let go by Wolves, Hunt finally signed a short-term deal with Ipswich, but has yet to make much of an impact there. D +

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

James McClean: His form at Sunderland diminished to such an extent that the club were happy to let him go, and the winger has made a less-than-solid start to life at Wigan. He has looked good for Ireland of late though. C +

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Andy Reid: Established himself as a vital member of the Nottingham Forest first team and impressed on his return to the Ireland set-up. At 31 though, time is running out for him to make an impact on the international scene, and he’ll probably need to be playing regularly in the Premier League to convince skeptics that he warrants a place in the national team. A –

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Anthony Pilkington: Hasn’t been particularly impressive in a struggling Norwich side. Moreover, Pilkington has still only made two appearances at international level. C+

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Glenn Whelan: Seemed off the pace at times for Ireland and has been in and out of the Stoke side since Mark Hughes took over. He’ll find it difficult to retain his regular starting place in the Ireland team if both Gibson and McCarthy are fit, while even David Meyler will be pushing for a place ahead of him if he continues to impress with Hull. C

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Jon Walters: Has continued to be picked regularly since Mark Hughes took over at Stoke, though he didn’t exactly set the world alight when selected for Ireland. B -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Robbie Keane: This year, Keane made his overall scoring tally an incredible 62 goals for Ireland, and also gained a Player of the Year nomination in the MLS. He may still not contribute a lot in the build-up play, but when they need a goal, the Irish side still have no better player to rely upon. A -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

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(INPHO/James Crombie)

Shane Long: A lack of form saw him lose his place in the West Brom side — as well as almost getting sold to Hull — and his performances for Ireland were patchy (although he did score a fantastic goal against England at Wembley).  He has played with much more confidence in recent weeks, however. B -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Simon Cox: Has a respectable five goals in 13 appearances for Nottingham Forest, but has been omitted from Noel King’s squads and may struggle to break into Martin O’Neill’s team too. C +

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Kevin Doyle: A hugely disappointing year saw Doyle relegated for the second consecutive season with Wolves and snubbed by Trapattoni. Having once been thought of as one of the first names on the teamsheet, Doyle is now not even a guaranteed squad member. And even in League One, he has managed to score just a handful of goals this season. D

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

Anthony Stokes: Stokes was the only Irish player to feature in the Champions League proper this season, and began the campaign impressively; playing an instrumental role in helping Celtic seal a dramatic aggregate qualifying round win over Shakhter Karagandy. On the downside, he was somewhat disappointingly left out of the side for their vital home match against Milan. Nevertheless, his performances with Ireland were decent enough to suggest he warrants a place in the squad at the very least. B

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Possible

Conor Sammon: Struggled to get a place even with a team of modest ambition like Derby. His work-rate for Ireland could not be faulted, but he appears to lack the sufficient quality to be a viable long-term option for the side. Consequently, few people complained when he was left out of Noel King’s squads. C -

Likelihood of starting O’Neill’s first competitive game: Outside chance

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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