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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 27 February 2021

Do you agree with our Ireland XI to play Slovakia?

Stephen Kenny has a number of big calls to make for Thursday’s Euros play-off.

The Irish team (file pic).
The Irish team (file pic).
Image: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO


Barring a late injury, there is no doubt Darren Randolph will start against Slovakia. The Bray native is only second choice at West Ham currently, but with the inexperienced duo of Caoimhin Kelleher and Mark Travers in reserve, the 33-year-old is set to retain the number one jersey.

At the back, John Egan and Shane Duffy are expected to play. Stephen Kenny has suggested he is not inextricably wedded to any particular system, but it would be somewhat of a surprise if he abandoned the 4-2-3-1 formation he has favoured thus far.

That said, playing three at the back and slotting in Derrick Williams or Kevin Long might be tempting, particularly as it would free Enda Stevens and Matt Doherty to play the wing-back roles that they favour. Doherty, of course, has been playing as part of a four-man back-line at Spurs, though he is effectively a wing-back there, given the significant licence Jose Mourinho gives him to go forward. Cyrus Christie has plenty of international experience and would be an able deputy for the Dubliner should he pick up an injury.


Regardless of the formation he plays, you suspect Kenny will go with two defensive midfielders.

This is probably the area of the team where there is the most uncertainty in terms of selection. After all, the entire midfield was changed from the Bulgaria Nations League game for the subsequent Finland encounter. Conor Hourihane, James McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick were given the nod in Sofia, whereas Jayson Molumby, Harry Arter and Robbie Brady were selected at the Aviva. Arter is an injury doubt for the game, while Brady has just 40 minutes of Premier League football under his belt this season and Molumby has been restricted to EFL Cup appearances for Brighton, so on club form, you would expect the midfield to more closely resemble the one that lined out in Sofia.

Jack Byrne’s excellent recent displays with Shamrock Rovers could also put him in with a chance of featuring, particularly given that creativity in attack was one area where Ireland came up conspicuously short in Kenny’s previous two games in charge.

Alan Browne, meanwhile, will probably have to settle for a place on the bench, given that he failed to start either the Bulgaria or Finland game.

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This is another area where places appear to be still up for grabs. Callum O’Dowda, Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah started against Bulgaria and did okay, while all three retained their places for the Finland match.

Yet for this crucial game, Kenny may be tempted to opt for more experience. David McGoldrick and James McClean are both good options, while Aaron Connolly might feel his strong performances at club level have put him in with a decent shout of featuring. Although the Galway native sat out training on Monday, he is expected to be available for selection.

Kenny might also feel a two-man forward line is the best way to go, allowing Connolly to play in a preferred central role and thus giving more scope for a traditional number 10, such as Jack Byrne, to play in behind the forwards.

In addition, Shane Long and Callum Robinson are also available, though an appearance off the bench rather than from the outset looks more likely for the duo on the basis of Kenny’s selections so far. 

Predicted Ireland team (4-2-3-1): Randolph; Doherty, Egan, Duffy, Stevens; McCarthy, Hourihane; Hendrick, O’Dowda, Connolly; McGoldrick.

Alternative XI (3-5-2/5-3-2): Randolph; Williams, Egan, Duffy; Doherty, Stevens; McCarthy, Hourihane; Byrne; McGoldrick, Connolly.


About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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