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Here's what Ireland's starting XI for the crucial play-off with Slovakia should be

The Boys in Green are set for a big game in March as they bid to qualify for Euro 2020.

The Irish team as they lined out against Denmerk.
The Irish team as they lined out against Denmerk.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO


DARREN RANDOLPH is virtually certain to remain in goal barring injury, having been excellent for club and country alike in recent times. Should he be unavailable, there would be some concern — the primary two back-up goalkeepers, Kieran O’Hara and Mark Travers don’t have much international experience, though Man United stopper O’Hara has at least been getting regular first-team football on loan at Burton in League One.

At the back, Shane Duffy, John Egan and Enda Stevens have performed reasonably well in the campaign so far and so deserve to keep their places. The big call will be at right-back, where the manager is likely to have to choose between Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty. Doherty has been in better form at club level while scoring the equaliser and generally impressing in the 1-1 draw with Denmark, for which the Everton star was unavailable. Consequently, McCarthy may be tempted to give him the nod at the expense of the Ireland captain.

Ciaran Clark, who has won his place back at Newcastle this season, is a decent alternative at centre-back if one of the regulars are absent.


An area where there is some room for debate. Glenn Whelan has arguably been Ireland’s best midfielder in the campaign, and so it would be a surprise if he didn’t line out in Bratislava. Alan Browne had a decent game against Denmark at the Aviva and the Cork native appears to be one of the less experienced stars that McCarthy has taken a shine to. He actually started out on the right-hand side against the Danes, but may be moved to a more central area against the Slovaks.

Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane have both struggled to consistently hit the standards expected of them. Hourihane has been in better form at club level for Villa of late and could be given the nod at the expense of the Burnley star.

Josh Cullen, who has impressed when given a chance in friendlies would be considered a decent option, though he is currently out with a long-term injury and may not be ready by the time March comes around.

Jack Byrne would be a popular option and is arguably Ireland’s most creative player, though McCarthy has been reluctant to play him in competitive games thus far and is unlikely to throw him in against the Slovaks.


On the wings, James McClean has previously been considered an automatic choice, though the Stoke star has looked short of confidence in this campaign, particularly away from home, and may come under pressure for a starting spot.

Aaron Connolly missed the Denmark match through injury, but is likely to be a strong candidate to start in Slovakia. His versatility will work in his favour, given that he can play as both a winger and an out-and-out striker.

Callum Robinson was unlucky to miss out on a starting spot against Denmark and may well be given the nod in March. The Sheffield United star is another who can comfortably shift between winger and forward.

Sean Maguire is another candidate. He impressed and scored in the New Zealand friendly in November, though he may once again have to be content to be seen as a useful option off the bench.

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Up top, David McGoldrick will almost certainly start if available. Despite only scoring once, he has led the line brilliantly since McCarthy resurrected him from international obscurity and has arguably been Ireland’s player of the qualifying campaign.

James Collins has most recently been serving as the back-up forward when McGoldrick is absent.


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Paul Fennessy

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