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What team should Ireland pick to start against Wales?

We choose the line-up we’d like to see named on Friday evening.

The Ireland team that played Georgia back in October.
The Ireland team that played Georgia back in October.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE ABSENTEES ARE numerous and significant, but as Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane both re-iterated this week, it won’t be used as an excuse come Friday night.

Injuries are part and parcel of football and Ireland’s management team will play the hand it’s been dealt with the quiet confidence that they can pick up all three points against Wales — although a draw wouldn’t be a terrible result in the grand scheme of things.

There are less than 48 hours until kick-off at the Aviva Stadium, so it’s as good a time as any to pick the starting XI we want to see named for what is arguably the biggest game of this World Cup qualifying campaign so far.

Darren Randolph has cemented his place as Ireland number one over the past 18 months and few could argue with his inclusion. On top of that, the West Ham stopper is now first-choice at club level — having displaced Adrian a week after the win over Austria in November.

With centre-half pairing Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy — who both started in Vienna — unavailable through injury, the back four effectively picks itself. One of the country’s finest servants, John O’Shea is past his best at 35 but can still do a job beside the ever-willing Richard Keogh.

The uncapped Andy Boyle and John Egan lack the international experience to be thrown into the deep end for such a crucial match.

Seamus Coleman has grown in stature since taking the armband and he will begin at right full-back after returning to training today. Burnley’s Stephen Ward slots in on the opposite flank with the increasingly-influential Robbie Brady suspended.

Brady’s unavailability is also felt in midfield, and the same can be said for Bournemouth’s Harry Arter, who impressed on his competitive international debut at the Ernst-Happel Stadium.

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan may not be every Irish fan’s favourite player but the Dubliner — still a regular in the Potters team — will be important in shielding the Irish backline.

The fitness of James McCarthy has been a talking point all week and there was a glimmer of hope today as the Everton man trained fully with the rest of the squad for the first time. That said, it would be a huge risk to start him given the ongoing hamstring problems (imagine the reaction of Toffees boss Ronald Koeman if he got the nod!).

McCarthy hasn’t kicked a ball competitively since a 26-minute cameo in the defeat to Tottenham at the start of the month, and I’d argue that David Meyler deserves a place ahead of him in the Ireland team.

The Corkman came on early for Whelan during the win over Austria and put in a tremendous shift — even winning possession from Kevin Wimmer to start the attack for the winning goal.

David Meyler Meyler came on after 22 minutes in the win over Austria. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He was ever-present in the Hull City team at the start of the season, but the arrival of new manager Marco Silva has coincided with him losing his spot. A useful squad player, Meyler has stepped up in the past when called upon by O’Neill.

Further ahead, Jeff Hendrick does not possess the same creative brilliance that makes Wes Hoolahan such a invaluable player for Ireland, but — as the Burnley man showed at Euro 2016 — he doesn’t fear the big occasion.

Hendrick is well-versed in pressing high up the field thanks to Clarets boss Sean Dyche and he has the legs to get around the field. We’ve also seen glimpses of the Dubliner’s ability to create something out of nothing.

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On the flanks, James McClean has become a regular fixture with his performances and goals (Ireland’s top scorer in this campaign with three) and the winger will surely be ready to give it his all despite the tragic death of his friend and former team-mate — Derry City captain Ryan McBride.

O’Neill knows he can rely on both McClean and Stoke City’s Jon Walters, who I’d put on the other wing for his incredible work-rate and the eye for a goal.

There’s a genuine argument to recall Aiden McGeady given the fact the recently-named Championship Player of the Month is in flying form. But having the option of McGeady and Preston North End team-mate Daryl Horgan off the bench could prove vital if O’Neill needs to shake things up in the second half.

Up front, it’s hard to look past Shane Long. The Southampton striker has the ability to stretch Wales and cause real problems for defenders he faces regularly in the Premier League.

Ireland v Wales team

Agree with the team? What would your starting XI look like? Let us know below… 

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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