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Dublin: 3 °C Monday 10 December, 2018

Ireland need to regenerate and give youth a chance on Turkey trip

Martin O’Neill names his squad for this month’s friendly in Antalya tomorrow afternoon.

Declan Rice, in action for Ireland's U21s againt Norway's Ulrik Jenssen here, looks set for a call-up.
Declan Rice, in action for Ireland's U21s againt Norway's Ulrik Jenssen here, looks set for a call-up.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

ONLY A SMALL band of hardcore Ireland fans will make the journey to the Turkish resort town of Antalya later this month.

The popular holiday destination might be located in an area of the southern Mediterranean region known as the Turquoise Coast due to its blue waters, but just 170 travelling or so supporters are expected to attend the first international fixture of 2018 on 23 March.

It’s fair to say the friendly hasn’t exactly captured the imagination of the Irish public, and there are several factors behind that. Four months may have passed, but the humiliating manner in which the World Cup play-offs ended at home to Denmark last November still looms over the team.

With no major tournament to look forward to, it will be September before Ireland play their next competitive matches in the shape of Uefa Nations League meetings against recent foes Wales and Denmark.

Then there is the ill-feeling towards Martin O’Neill from some quarters over a playing style that many find hard to watch, the continuous links to club jobs and his treatment of RTÉ soccer correspondent Tony O’Donoghue — particularly during their most recent interview back in January.

That said, having eventually put pen to paper on a new deal, the Derry man can begin to draw a line under the latest disappointment tomorrow afternoon when he shows up at the Aviva Stadium to name his squad for the Turkey friendly.

The one-off game — which follows a three-day warm weather training camp — is a great opportunity to give minutes to those fringe players best-equipped to make the step up and fill the spots left vacant by those who have recently retired from Ireland duty.

In an aging group, Daryl Murphy, Wes Hoolahan and Kevin Doyle have already done so, while the likes of John O’Shea, Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters could soon follow suit.

Two players who have shot their hands up to volunteer as adequate replacements of late are Preston North End pair Sean Maguire and Alan Browne. 22-year-old midfielder Browne is up for Championship Player of the Month for his displays under Alex Neill, and he netted in last night’s win over Bristol City.

Preston North End v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship - Deepdale Alan Browne has come to the fore. Source: Nigel French

Ex-Cork City striker Maguire, meanwhile, made his long-awaited bow in the win over Moldova back in October. He has returned from a four-month injury lay-off to score three goals in two substitute appearances in the Championship.

It’s a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for a man who considered giving up on football altogether a couple of years ago, and Maguire now deserves his shot. Aston Villa striker Scott Hogan rediscovered his scoring touch at the turn of the year and warrants a good look too.

Having been involved in previous squads, Wolves wide man Matt Doherty must be overdue a first cap at this stage. The former Bohemians is an ever-present in the side leading the Championship this season. Although Ireland have options at full-back, Enda Stevens of Sheffield United and Preston’s Greg Cunningham could also be worth a shout.

2017 saw Kevin Long (Burnley), John Egan (Brentford), Andy Boyle (Preston – on loan at Doncaster), Daryl Horgan (Preston) and Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa) all make debuts and they will be looking to build on that progress.

The match also allows O’Neill the rare chance to hand a couple of the brightest youngsters their first taste of the senior set-up in a non-pressurised environment.

19-year-old Declan Rice has been a real success story at West Ham and the Ireland U21 international, who can play in defence or sitting in midfield, needs to be included despite his tender years.

While they are well-covered in goal, Darren Randolph, Rob Elliot, Keiren Westwood and Colin Doyle are all over 30 so bringing someone like Manchester United youngster Kieran O’Hara along for the experience would be no harm. The 21-year-old trained with the senior team back in October.

Another significant boost is the return of captain and one of the team’s leaders — Seamus Coleman. The influential full-back has not donned the green shirt since his double leg break against Wales 11 months ago, but he’s back lining out for Everton since recovering fully and should make a welcome return to the fold.

- Originally published at 17.40

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Ben Blake

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