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Dublin: 18 °C Tuesday 16 July, 2019

With less than 2 weeks until Denmark, here's how Ireland's key players are shaping up

Some of Ireland’s likely starting XI to face the Danes have fared better than others at club level in recent weeks.

Darren Randolph has impressed for Middlesbrough.
Darren Randolph has impressed for Middlesbrough.
Image: Richard Sellers

N.B. ‘KEY PLAYERS’ denotes those who featured in the recent matches with Wales/Moldova or individuals with a decent chance of playing against Denmark. Hence, Jon Walters, who is expected to be unavailable through injury, is omitted.

Darren Randolph: The 30-year-old is in encouraging form for a Middlesbrough side that are currently mid-table in the Championship, featuring in all 15 of their league games so far this season.

Cyrus Christie: Like fellow summer signing Randolph, Christie appears to have adjusted well to life at Boro, playing every minute of their Championship campaign so far since joining.

Shane Duffy: Duffy has excelled as part of an impressive Brighton defence that have conceded only 11 goals so far in the Premier League this season.

Ciaran Clark: The 28-year-old started off well with Newcastle in the Premier League, but has not played a competitive game since Ireland’s 1-0 win over Wales. Rafa Benitez recently urged the dropped defender to “compete for your place” and praised him for being “really good in training”.

Kevin Long: The 27-year-old got a run in the Burnley side towards the end of last season, but has been unable to force his way into Sean Dyche’s plans since the start of the season. Long has had to be content with just two EFL Cup appearances at club level, with the first-choice central defensive pairing of James Tarkowski and Ben Mee impressing for a Clarets side that has the joint-best defensive record of all the clubs outside the top three.

Stephen Ward: At 32, Ward is playing as well as he ever has. The club’s summer signing of Charlie Taylor prompted some to speculate that the Irishman’s days in the first team could be numbered, nonetheless Ward has been an ever-present in Sean Dyche’s side so far this season.

Wes Hoolahan: At 35, it’s no surprise that Hoolahan is no longer a guaranteed starter for Norwich. That said, he has been involved in 11 of their Championships matches, albeit just six of those games have been starts. The ex-Shels midfielder may be used from the bench by Ireland too, with his inability to play two full games in quick succession cited by Martin O’Neill as the reason he was dropped for the Wales game earlier this month, despite an eye-catching performance against Moldova in their previous World Cup qualifier.

Aiden McGeady: The winger has been one of the few bright spots in a Sunderland side who are currently second from bottom in the Championship. McGeady has made 14 appearances in all competitions for the Black Cats since joining from Everton in the summer, scoring four goals in the process.

Glenn Whelan: The 33-year-old’s experience may come in handy for the Denmark games, particularly with James McCarthy an injury doubt and David Meyler suspended for the first leg in Copenhagen. He has been a regular in the heart of Aston Villa’s midfield since joining from Stoke in the summer transfer window, and was named man-of-the-match for their game with Birmingham at the weekend.

Harry Arter: It hasn’t been the best of starts to the season for Arter. Bournemouth’s poor form coupled with injury problems has seen him drop out of the first XI — indeed, the 27-year-old has not started a Premier League match since 15 September. The club haven’t fared particularly well with or without Arter, and are currently second from bottom in the table. The Ireland midfielder, meanwhile, opened up about his omission from proceedings recently, saying: “Much worse things in life can happen.”

David Meyler: After a standout performance in the 1-0 win over Wales, Meyler was brought back down to earth with a red card in Hull’s 1-1 draw away to Norwich less than a week later. He has returned to start their last two games and appears to have established himself as a regular, having been used largely as an impact sub earlier on this season.

James McCarthy: The 26-year-old made his first start for Everton in nearly nine months in the League Cup game against Chelsea earlier this month. However, since then, McCarthy has picked up a hamstring injury that has rendered him doubtful for the Denmark games. Even if he wins his fitness race, it would be expecting a lot of the Toffees star to contribute significantly to the Irish cause, having barely played any first-team football for the past 12 months, so it seems likely that these play-off games will have come too soon for him.

Robbie Brady: Martin O’Neill and others have hailed Brady for showing improved form in recent times. The 25-year-old appeared to be in a bit of a slump after being arguably Ireland’s standout player at Euro 2016. He was in and out of the Clarets’ team last season, but has become a regular since the beginning of this season, starting all 10 of their Premier League games so far.

Jeff Hendrick: Like Brady, Hendrick has been playing consistently for an impressive Burnley side, scoring two match-winning goals (against Everton and Newcastle) in the process.

Callum O’Dowda: The 22-year-old has been in and out of the Bristol City side since signing for them at the beginning of last season. However, following an impressive, morale-boosting display for Ireland against Moldova, he appears to have gained confidence, starting the last three consecutive matches for the Championship side, and impressing at the weekend in particular.

James McClean: Given his many tireless performances and the vital goals he scored against Moldova, Wales and Austria, McClean has to be a strong contender for Ireland’s player of the World Cup campaign regardless of what happens in these upcoming matches against Denmark. However, at club level, it’s been a different story. The Derry native has been involved in seven of West Brom’s 10 Premier League games, but just two of those appearances have been starts, the last of which came on 19 August.

Shane Long: It’s been a fairly frustrating start to the campaign for the 30-year-old, who has yet to score for club or country since the new season began. He has appeared in all bar one of Southampton’s Premier League matches, though he has been frequently used off the bench, starting on only five occasions in 2017-18 so far for the Saints.

Daryl Murphy: The veteran forward has started life at Nottingham Forest in encouraging fashion, scoring six goals in 13 Championship appearances. Nonetheless, Murphy has been out injured of late, failing to feature in his side’s last two matches. Murphy is suffering from what manager Mark Warburton describes as a “slight hamstring injury,” and so he is expected to be fit for the upcoming play-off games.

Sean Maguire: The 23-year-old has had a hugely encouraging start to life at Preston, playing regularly, scoring four Championship goals and swiftly becoming a fan favourite at Deepdale. Maguire is unlikely to start against the Danes given his lack of experience at international level, but Martin O’Neill may be tempted to use the former Cork City striker from the bench, as he did against Moldova recently.

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Paul Fennessy

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