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Here's how 41 of Martin O'Neill's Ireland hopefuls are looking ahead of the new season

With the new campaign set to begin for many players this weekend, we cast our eye over Ireland’s stars.

Seamus Coleman during Everton pre-season training in Austria.
Seamus Coleman during Everton pre-season training in Austria.
Image: Everton FC/Press Association Images

Goalkeepers

Brian Murphy (QPR)

ROB GREEN SERVED as QPR’s number one for much of last year, and he might even have competition for the backup jersey with Julio Cesar returning from a Toronto loan move. Murphy recently told reporters he’d consider going out on loan in search of first-team football, and with no real sign of the Waterford native making the breakthrough for Harry Redknapp’s side, perhaps this is an option he should pursue.

Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)

After an injury-plagued season with Sunderland last year, the goalkeeper will be hoping to see much more first-team action this year after signing for Sheffield Wednesday. Always considered hugely promising, the 29-year-old is in dire need of a run of a games to render himself a genuine contender for the number one jersey again.

David Forde (Millwall)

The 34-year-old looks set for another season as Millwall’s number one, having signed a new contract with the club during the summer. A solid start to the year would put him in pole position to start the European Championship qualifiers in September.

Rob Elliot (Newcastle)

Elliot is said to have impressed during Newcastle’s pre-season tour of New Zealand, however another season as Tim Krul’s deputy beckons barring a dramatic loss of form or an injury to the Dutchman.

Joe Murphy (Huddersfield)

The 32-year-old goalkeeper’s chances of at least making upcoming squads should not be dismissed — he recently moved up a division from League One team Coventry to Championship side Huddersfield and is likely to be getting regular first-team football, which is not necessarily the case with many of the aforementioned keepers.

Darren Randolph (Birmingham)

The Bray native had an excellent first season with Birmingham last year, though through a combination of injury and bad luck, has won just two caps for Ireland. Yet notwithstanding his lack of experience at international level, the 27-year-old currently looks like O’Neill’s best alternative to Forde.

Defenders

Richard Keogh (Derby)

After ending the season on a disastrous note last year after his mistake led to QPR’s winner in the play-off final, the Derby star will be hoping to make amends this year and lead his side to promotion. While he is unlikely to start for Ireland come September even following Richard Dunne’s retirement, his squad place should at least be safe.

Marc Wilson (Stoke)

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Stoke City v Tottenham Hotspur - Britannia Stadium Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

(Marc Wilson recently received praise from QPR boss Harry Redknapp)

The Stoke defender has no shortage of admirers at the moment, with QPR boss Harry Redknapp recently comparing him to Rio Ferdinand, while Crystal Palace are thought to be interested in signing the Antrim native, though his manager Mark Hughes has since played down this rumour.

Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)

The 24-year-old has been deployed at full-back during pre-season and has looked less than comfortable in the position. However, it may be his only realistic option of regular first-team football with Ron Vlaar, Nathan Baker and Philippe Senderos all competing for a place in the side at centre-back.

Seamus Coleman (Everton)

There was much speculation about the ex-Sligo Rovers star leaving Everton last year, however this has quietened of late, after the defender signed a new contract during the summer. One of the few Irish players who is more or less guaranteed a place in the side, expect Coleman to be a key figure in the Euro qualifiers provided he remains injury-free.

Joey O’Brien (West Ham) 

A player who, with a bit more luck in avoiding injuries, could have had far more than his five caps for Ireland by now. After playing almost all of West Ham’s matches in the 2012-13 Premier League season, a bad injury meant the Dubliner only made 17 appearances last term. The Hammers’ signing of full-backs Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell means he will face further competition for a place in the first XI, yet his ability to play both left-back and right-back means he is likely to remain in Sam Allardyce’s plans to some degree.

John O’Shea (Sunderland)

The Sunderland captain recovered well after being dropped for the Tottenham game towards the end of last season, helping to guide the side out of relegation trouble ultimately. The 33-year-old ex-Man United star is consequently expected to be a key figure both for his club and country in the forthcoming season, particularly with fellow veteran defender Richard Dunne no longer available for international duty.

Alex Pearce (Reading)

Soccer - International Friendly - Republic of Ireland v Poland - Aviva Stadium Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

(Alex Pearce featured in both the Italy and Portugal games over the summer)

The Reading defender started two of Ireland’s three summer friendlies, so it’s not inconceivable that he would be given a chance to impress against Georgia. If that happens, Pearce will be hoping his performance will be more similar to his Italy one than the more recent display he produced in the Portugal game.

Paul McShane (Hull)

After a slow start to Premier League life, McShane was actually beginning to show some form before a bad injury put him out of action for much of the season. He did make a substitute appearance in the FA Cup final, however, though is again expected to be used mainly as a substitute this year.

Stephen Kelly (Reading)

The 30-year-old is currently out injured, but will be hopeful of improving on last year’s 15 appearances with Reading. The defender did get a decent opportunity in Ireland’s most recent matches, appearing against both Costa Rica and Portugal. Moreover, Kelly’s versatility means he is likely to be retained in Martin O’Neill’s forthcoming squads provided he is fit.

Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace)

At 33, from a physical perspective, Delaney’s best years are behind him, but in terms of career achievements, last year was surely incomparable for the Crystal Palace star, featuring at centre-back in all but one of his side’s games, as they finished an impressive 11th. He faces further competition for a place this year however, with Brede Hangeland joining the Selhurst Park outfit. Yet with the defender missing Ireland’s summer games, it is hard to know where he will figure come the qualifiers.

Shane Duffy (Everton)

A crucial season for the 22-year-old after impressing with Yeovil last year, the abundance of centre-backs currently at Everton suggests he is unlikely to figure prominently within their set-up this season. As a result, he will either have to strongly impress in training or consider a move elsewhere.

Stephen Ward (Wolves)

Portugal Republic of Ireland Soccer Source: Bill Kostroun

(Stephen Ward in action against Portugal)

Despite playing in their recent pre-season friendly against Oxford, manager Kenny Jackett says he expects Ward to move on following a successful loan spell at Brighton last year. The latter side continue to be linked to the ex-Bohs player, and with Martin O’Neill’s options at left-back quite limited at the moment, he could do with Ward having another good season for the Seagulls.

Midfielders

Glenn Whelan (Stoke)

Whelan had a shaky start to Stoke’s campaign last year, temporarily losing his place in the first team as a consequence, but the 30-year-old recovered superbly thereafter, and was widely regarded as one of Stoke’s best players in the latter half of the season. For Ireland however, central midfield is becoming one of the most competitive areas, with Jeff Hendrick, Darron Gibson and David Meyler also staking serious claims for a place alongside James McCarthy.

Jeff Hendrick (Derby)

The 22-year-old experienced a miserable start to the campaign last year, picking up a serious long-term injury. Nonetheless, he subsequently regained his place in the team for the latter stages of Derby’s ultimately unsuccessful promotion challenge. Considered one of the Championship’s brightest prospects, another solid season could see Hendrick move up a level to the Premier League, with or without the Rams.

Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)

Yet to play for Ireland at senior international level, Grealish may well add to his one Premier League appearance for Villa. The 18-year-old has impressed in pre-season, with manager Paul Lambert hinting that he could see more game time for the club this year.

Wes Hoolahan (Norwich)

Having been largely ostracised from the Norwich first team last year, Wes Hoolahan has been far more involved in pre-season for the Canaries of late. Hence, he could be set to play a big role in their promotion push, with reports indicating he is on the verge of signing a new contract with the club. Ireland and Martin O’Neill could do with him too — he has been one of his country’s most impressive players in recent matches.

Aiden McGeady (Everton)

Soccer - Leon Osman Testimonial - Everton v FC Porto - Goodison Park Source: Lynne Cameron

(Everton’s Aiden McGeady in action against FC Porto)

Having made the big move he was seeking to Everton last January, there was a resulting sense of anti-climax, with McGeady appearing mostly from the bench for the Toffees. However, the 28-year-old was short of fitness, having been without football for seven weeks, therefore it is hoped that he will have a much bigger impact this season.

James McCarthy (Everton)

McCarthy enjoyed an excellent first season with Everton last year, and is expected to play an integral role again this time around in his favoured role sitting in central midfield. That is, of course, provided that Man United don’t come in for him, with Louis van Gaal reportedly an admirer of the star.

Anthony Pilkington (Norwich)

A disappointing season hampered by injuries saw Pilkington make just 10 starts as Norwich were relegated. To compound his woe, a prospective £3million move to Swansea last January ultimately fell through. Yet despite all these disappointments, the winger insists he is looking forward to a new season at Carrow Road.

Paul Green (Derby)

After an uninspired season that saw him play just nine times for Leeds last year (in addition to a period on loan at Ipswich), Green made the move to Rotherham during the summer on a two-year deal. Yet despite his indifferent season at club level, Martin O’Neill has at least shown a willingness to give him a chance, with the 31-year-old starting in Ireland’s draw with Costa Rica over the summer.

James McClean (Sunderland)

McClean enjoyed a solid if not spectacular season in the Championship with Wigan last year, scoring two goals in 29 appearances. Manager Uwe Rosler recently used words such as ‘potential’ to describe McClean, but at 25, he needs to be fulfilling such promise sooner rather than later.

Darron Gibson (Everton)

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Tranmere Rovers v Everton - Prenton Park Source: EMPICS Sport

(Everton’s Darron Gibson has only recently returned from a long-term injury)

The 26-year-old star is back playing with Everton after a nine-month injury layoff. Before then, he was considered a key player, but with the signings of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry, the Derry native is no longer certain of a first-team place. Yet Roberto Martinez has been impressed with Gibson in training recently and also suggested he still has a big future at the club.

Stephen Quinn (Hull)

Quinn featured just 15 times in the league for Hull last year, with injuries partially to blame for his lack of playing opportunities. The 28-year old did start in the FA Cup final however, and will hope to build on this progress in the coming season. With few other creative-type players at his disposal, Martin O’Neill badly needs Quinn to succeed.

Andy Reid (Nottingham Forest)

A fantastic season for Reid personally last year saw him included in the Championship Team of the Season, such was the influence he had in numerous games. Yet unfortunately for the Dubliner, he was injured ahead of the end-of-season-run-in with Forest’s promotion bid suffering substantially in his absence. Manager Stuart Pearce has indicated that Reid will continue to be an integral part of the team this year, and if he remains injury-free, he similarly has every chance of making the upcoming Ireland squads.

David Meyler (Hull)

The 25-year-old Cork native had an encouraging season last year, starting most of Hull’s matches as they retained their top-flight status. Meyler will also be one of the few Irish players playing in Europe this year, which may give him the edge over rivals for his Ireland position, such as Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick.

Robbie Brady (Hull)

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Hull City v Cardiff City - KC Stadium Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

After a hugely promising start to last season, Brady ultimately had a difficult time with injuries and so, seldom featured for Hull as a result. Yet the Dubliner recently indicated he was close to full fitness again, and with at least one of the Irish wing spots very much up for grabs at the moment, a decent beginning to the season could even lead to Brady starting against Georgia.

Strikers

Daryl Murphy (Ipswich)

With 0 goals in 10 appearances for Ireland, Murphy hasn’t had the most memorable international career to date. However, the 31-year-old former Celtic star has been called up recently after Martin O’Neill watched him play at Ipswich, while club manager Mick McCarthy was impressed enough to label his performances “outstanding” towards the end of last season. And though he remains very much on the periphery of the Irish squad, the immensely physical Murphy could potentially serve as a useful alternative to the contrasting qualities possessed by the likes of Long and Keane.

Simon Cox (Nottingham Forest)

The industrious Cox is believed to be on the verge of leaving Nottingham Forest to link up with Stephen Kelly and Alex Pearce, among others, at Reading. He had a less-than-spectacular season with Forest last term, scoring eight times in 34 appearances, and will surely need to make a significant impact at his new club in order for his Ireland career to continue much further.

Jon Walters (Stoke)

Walters has been linked with a move away from Stoke after an indifferent campaign last year, nevertheless the 30-year-old has emphasised his desire to stay at the club and fight for a first-team place.

Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)

The veteran striker has continued to thrive in the MLS recently, winning Player of the Week for his impressive display against Portland, which took his total tally to 46 goals in 72 games for LA Galaxy and seven in 13 appearances this season. But despite this excellent form, he no longer seems to be a guaranteed starter for Ireland. Should Martin O’Neill play one up front as he did in the summer friendlies against Italy and Portugal, then Keane’s place may be under threat, with Shane Long more of a natural lone frontman.

Shane Long (Hull)

The striker has already been on target in pre-season and looks set to lead the line for Hull this year. The 27-year-old had a bad start to last year’s campaign, but improved thereafter, though he will still be hoping to improve his record of seven goals in 30 appearances, consolidating his status as Ireland’s main striker in the process.

Kevin Doyle (Wolves)

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Play Off - Final - Derby County v Queens Park Rangers - Wembley Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

(Kevin Doyle is not expected to return to QPR following last season’s loan spell)

QPR don’t appear keen on reigniting their interest in Doyle, with the player part of the team’s ultimately successful promotion after moving there on loan last year. Wolves appear equally apathetic about keeping the player, and so he faces an anxious wait to see if a club is willing to take him away from his Molineux misery prior to the transfer window’s closure.

Anthony Stokes (Celtic)

The striker was an unused sub in Celtic’s 4-1 loss to Legia Warsaw, though this can largely be explained by the fact that he was recovering from injury at the time. He may well feature in the second leg tonight however, and is an outside bet to figure in the upcoming Euros qualifiers. With 20 goals in 33 appearances at club level last year, Stokes’ scoring record was vastly superior to any other major Irish striker, albeit in the relatively uncompetitive SPL.

Conor Sammon (Derby)

Sammon endured a disappointing season last year, seldom starting for Derby. He’ll surely need to improve at club level if he is to retain his place in the Ireland squad for much longer.

Leon Best (Blackburn, on loan at Derby)

After scoring four goals in 15 appearances for Sheffield Wednesday last season, Leon Best this week earned a move to Derby on loan from his parent club Blackburn. Known as a somewhat difficult character, if he cleans up his act and scores a few goals to boot, Best may well ultimately add to his seven Ireland caps.

Which Irish players are you looking forward to seeing in the upcoming season? Did we harshly leave someone out? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Paul Fennessy

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