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Could this be Stephen Kenny's Ireland XI to face Slovakia?

The incoming manager will have some tricky decisions to make in the coming months.

The Irish team, pictured above, as they played against Denmark.
The Irish team, pictured above, as they played against Denmark.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

EXACTLY WHICH players Stephen Kenny will choose to play against Slovakia is not easy to predict.

Even when the game will even go ahead is uncertain, with the Football Association of Ireland most recently suggesting November as a possible date.

Whether the match in Brastislava is Kenny’s first game in charge is also far from guaranteed.

There remains a possibility that Nations League matches will come before the Slovakia encounter, which could be important in giving Kenny some much-needed room to experiment ahead of the vital clash.

Nevertheless, despite all these obvious caveats, we’ve taken a stab at predicting what players are likely to be in the former Dundalk manager’s thoughts, as he aims to secure Ireland’s place at the Euros.

Goalkeeper – Darren Randolph: The one position Stephen Kenny is surely least likely to change is goalkeeper. There is currently no other Irish stopper playing at Darren Randolph’s level, so it would be a major shock if he was displaced from the number one spot.

Alternative candidate: Kieran O’Hara

Right-back – Matt Doherty: Kenny is an attack-minded coach who wants his full-backs to get forward as often as possible. One of his toughest calls will be choosing between Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman, though it’s not impossible to see him accommodating both. If it is a straight choice though, Doherty — arguably the best Irish player in the world for at least two seasons now — could have the edge. He is younger, faster and more physically imposing than Coleman, though the Donegal native still has a lot to offer and should not be discounted on the basis of his experience.

Alternative candidate: Seamus Coleman

Left-back - Enda Stevens: Another position where Kenny is unlikely to deviate from his predecessor, Stevens has a case for being the most improved Irish player over the last five years. Having been unwanted at Aston Villa and consigned to League Two football with Portsmouth, he has since developed into one of the most exciting full-backs in the Premier League with Sheffield United. There are also decent back-ups in the position — Ryan Manning has impressed for QPR in the Championship this season, while fellow Galway native Greg Cunningham could also come into contention once he returns to full fitness.

Alternative candidate: Ryan Manning

Centre-back – Shane Duffy: Another area where Ireland appear well-stocked is centre-back. Unlike other managers, Kenny insists that his defenders be comfortable in possession, so it will be interesting to see how well each individual adapts to this demand. Duffy remains strong favourite to start in Slovakia, given his experience and what he’s achieved at both club and international level.

Alternative candidate: Darragh Lenihan

Centre-back – John Egan: Egan has had an excellent season with Sheffield United and since Richard Keogh’s absence, has justifiably been given a run in the starting XI. On account of his superb form, you would expect Kenny to stick with him. Decent seasons for Darragh Lenihan and Ciaran Clark should not be overlooked though, while Nathan Collins, Dara O’Shea and Conor Masterson all appear capable of making the step up from U21 level.

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Alternative candidate: Ciaran Clark

Defensive midfield: James McCarthy - Kenny generally prefers to play with two deep-lying midfielders, to accommodate three attacking players and one out-and-out striker. James McCarthy would seem an obvious candidate for this role. The Crystal Palace star has struggled with injuries in recent years, but if he is fit and feels capable of balancing club commitments with playing for his country — which Kenny’s predecessor Mick McCarthy suggested has been an issue of late — he could resurrect an international career that has been dormant for some time.

Alternative candidate: Jeff Hendrick

Defensive midfield: Jayson Molumby - Of all the players Kenny worked with at U21 level, Molumby appears better placed than most currently to make the step up. Unlike the majority of his peers, he has been playing regularly — away from parent club Brighton, on loan at Championship side Millwall. Kenny wants midfielders who are comfortable on the ball and Molumby fits the bill in this regard. There are plenty of other candidates for this role though. Glenn Whelan has been a terrific servant to his country, and has been one of the more impressive performers under McCarthy, though he will be 37 by the time the next Euros rolls around, so time may be catching up with him. The likes of Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane, Harry Arter, Josh Cullen and even, if he continues to progress, Conor Coventry, will feel they could force their way into the manager’s plans.

Alternative candidate: Josh Cullen

Attacking midfielder – Jack Byrne: One of the hardest positions to predict, if Jack Byrne can continue the form he has shown over the past year at Shamrock Rovers, there is no reason why he can’t establish himself in the starting XI. Connor Ronan has been one of the standouts at U21 level for Kenny and could break into the senior squad. Alan Judge and Callum O’Dowda will also be among those eyeing up the role, while Alan Browne, Jeff Hendrick, Sean Maguire and Robbie Brady are all capable of playing there.

Alternative candidate: Sean Maguire

Attacking winger: Aaron Connolly - Another area that is likely to be hotly contested. The Brighton youngster was among the most impressive performers for Kenny at U21 level. Connolly might be better known as an out-and-out striker, but he excelled on the wing under the coach, and that might be where the Irish boss sees him playing at this juncture.

Alternative candidate: Ronan Curtis

Attacking winger: Callum Robinson - Robinson’s career hit a bit of a blip with a big-money move to Sheffield United in the summer not really working out so far. He has gained a new lease of life since joining West Brom on loan though, and he seems the type of player — quick and intelligent, with an eye for a goal — that Kenny would enjoy working with. The likes of James McClean, Ronan Curtis and possibly even Michael Obafemi and Troy Parrott could similarly fit into this position.

Alternative candidate: James McClean

Striker: David McGoldrick - It’s hard to think of a player who enhanced his reputation under Mick McCarthy more so than David McGoldrick. The attacker has been consistently among Ireland’s standouts in recent times. It helps that his club form took a dramatic turn for the better during that period — after being let go by Ipswich, he has been integral to Sheffield United’s rise to the Premier League. He’ll be 33 by the time of the next Euros, so won’t be a long-term option, but could prove a useful bridge as the promising likes of Troy Parrott and Adam Idah continue their development. That said, given his impressive form of late, Shane Long will also feel he can win back his place in the side, while Birmingham loan player Scott Hogan too was enjoying a terrific run prior to the coronavirus crisis.

Alternative candidate: Shane Long

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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