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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 30 May, 2020

Westwood's inclusion the right call and more Ireland squad talking points

Also, why Harry Arter is a significant loss to the Irish team.

Ireland players at the end of the game tonight.
Ireland players at the end of the game tonight.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

1. Westwood inclusion the right call

KEIREN WESTWOOD’S INCLUSION was arguably the biggest surprise in tonight’s Ireland squad, but it’s a call that few would argue with.

The Sheffield Wednesday stopper has been in terrific form at club level of late, and has been the only goalkeeper of the four in contention that has been playing regular football this season.

The fact that, until now, O’Neill has indicated a preference for Forde over Westwood in previous squads makes the veteran goalkeeper’s exclusion somewhat of a surprise.

However, O’Neill did say that club form would play a part in his thinking, and the 36-year-old has played just twice for Millwall in League Two since the turn of the year, and that factor, coupled with Westwood’s consistent excellence, has ultimately resulted in O’Neill performing a dramatic u-turn.

Forde, who started the qualifying campaign as Ireland’s number one goalkeeper, will be bitterly disappointed at the decision, but his form has patently not been good enough to justify selection for the squad.

2. Impressive cameo from O’Dowda

There has been plenty of angst about Irish underage football of late, but 21-year-old Callum O’Dowda certainly made an encouraging cameo at Turner’s Cross this evening.

Many eyebrows were raised when O’Neill called up League Two player O’Dowda ahead of more popular choices such as Jack Byrne and Chris Forrester.

But O’Dowda is surely better than his current level suggests — he was reportedly the subject of a failed bid from Championship side Derby back in January.

And while he was only on the field for a short period of time tonight, he showed few signs of nerves and looked more than capable of holding his own at this level, appearing comfortable on the ball and providing the Irish attack with some much-needed pace and trickery.

Of course, the player was inevitably omitted from the 23-man Euro 2016 squad that was subsequently announced, but if he continues at his current rate of progress, the Oxford star could become a key member of the side in years to come.

3. Arter a significant loss

Harry Arter Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Confirmation of Harry Arter’s Euro 2016 absence due to a thigh injury is undoubtedly a blow to the Irish side.

Arter seemed to have wrapped up a place in the squad after a man-of-the-match display against the Netherlands on Friday evening before fate intervened.

What made Arter stand out was his ability to bring something different to the team — he is more creative than either James McCarthy or Glenn Whelan, and unlike many Irish players, is constantly demanding the ball and attempting to dictate play.

We’ll never know whether he would have made the squad if fit, but Arter he can get over his injury issues, the Bournemouth midfielder is likely to be — as O’Neill indicated on Friday night — an important player for the future.

4. Cyrus Christie’s performance a concern

Cyrus Christie may be a fine athlete and a more-than-decent attacking full-back, but his performance at the back tonight will be a worry to Martin O’Neill.

The Derby man fell asleep for the second goal, and continually looked vulnerable defensively in the first half to boot, though it must also be acknowledged that he didn’t get much help from Aiden McGeady at times down Ireland’s right wing.

In general, Christie has performed well for Ireland, so it’s no surprise that he was included in the squad despite his disappointing display.

The 23-year-old won’t start at the Euros unless Coleman is injured, but given the Donegal native’s fitness issues of late, that scenario is far from unthinkable.

Consequently, if Christie is called upon, he will need to be much more alert than he was tonight as Ireland prepare to face considerably better opposition in the coming weeks.

5. David McGoldrick unlucky to miss out

Having looked impressive at times for Ireland, David McGoldrick will be particularly gutted to miss out on the Euro 2016 squad.

However, like Forde, the Ipswich striker is another who has not played enough this season — O’Neill hinted at as much on Friday night.

And while he showed some nice touches against Holland, he also looked sluggish at times, and presumably lacked the level of match sharpness needed to persuade O’Neill to take him to France.

Kevin Doyle’s earlier exclusion and Robbie Keane’s fitness would have given McGoldrick further hope, but ultimately, he narrowly missed out.

Daryl Murphy didn’t have his best game tonight, and has still yet to score at international level, but he started both Bosnia play-off matches as well as the Germany home match, so excluding him would have been extremely harsh.

While Murphy has had a somewhat disappointing season at Ipswich, his 27 goals last season illustrates that he does have the talent to thrive and be prolific at a decent level.

Nevertheless, as tonight’s match highlighted, the Waterford native looks a little short of confidence at the moment.

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Paul Fennessy

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