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Dublin: 5°C Monday 8 March 2021

5 Irish players with a point to prove to Martin O'Neill in 2016

We a look at those lads who have doubts hanging over them ahead of this summer’s European Championships in France.

MARTIN O’NEILL WILL have plenty to ponder in the months leading up to Euro 2016 and it’s up to his players to give him selection headaches.

The Republic of Ireland manager has shown a willingness to keep his options open by naming provisional extended squads and, unlike his predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, has been spotted at various grounds around England as he runs the rule over those fighting for a place in his team.

Here, we look at five Irish players who have something to prove to the Ireland boss in 2016.

Alex Pearce

Since signing for Derby County, Alex Pearce has not featured for the club in the league once and if such a trend continues, he will find his place in the Ireland squad seriously under threat.

The centre back ended his long association with Reading, where he was a mainstay, in order to sign for the Rams in June 2015. Ostensibly, it was a promising move for the England-born defender.

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Derby County v Villarreal - iPro Stadium Source: Nigel French

He was handed a three-year deal with a club holding aspirations of an imminent return to the Premier League and manager Paul Clement highlighted his international experience, strength and physicality as some of his attributes, adding that he was “very pleased” with the acquisition.

However, in six months he boasts just one competitive game under his belt: last August’s 2-1 League Cup defeat to Portsmouth. Since then he has mainly been seen on the Derby bench and, worryingly, he has also found his place there far from guaranteed in recent weeks.

Now 27, Pearce is at an age where his professional career relies on him playing regularly and particularly so if he is to rival John O’Shea or his Derby team-mate Richard Keogh for a place in the Ireland team.

With fellow fringe-player Shane Duffy playing every week for Blackburn Rovers and Ciaran Clark also in the picture, Pearce’s lack of game time is seriously hindering his chances.

A temporary loan move for the second half of the Championship season would go some way towards restoring his hopes of troubling Martin O’Neill, but, even at that, he will have to put in plenty of high quality performances.

Darren Randolph

His pass to Shane Long for the decisive goal in Ireland’s win over Germany last October will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it, but West Ham goalkeeper Darren Randolph should not be content to rest on his laurels.

Certainly, he has performed well for the Boys in Green since stepping into the breach for the ailing Shay Given, but the 28-year-old will be keen to further cement his place as number one in the coming months, since three Europa League appearances and just three games in the Premier League this season hardly constitute an impressive run of form.

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Charlton Athletic v West Ham United - The Valley Source: EMPICS Sport

With seasoned players such as Shay Given, David Forde and Keiren Westwood, as well as Newcastle United’s Rob Elliot and Charlton Athletic shot-stopper Stephen Henderson vying for the shirt, it is up to Randolph to demonstrate that he is the most deserving of the candidates.

The former Birmingham man has been the preferred option following Given’s injury, featuring in games against Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but it may not be enough for Randolph to sit in the shade of Adrian at the Boleyn Ground.

Richie Towell

Back-to-back league champion. Scorer of the winning goal in the FAI Cup final. Twenty-nine goals in all competitions from midfield. PFAI Player of the Year.

Frankly, it seems absurd to suggest that Richie Towell has anything to prove after such an outstanding, trophy-laden spell with Dundalk, but having secured a move to Brighton & Hove Albion, he still has a lot to do to convince Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane that he is the real deal.

Towell Brighton Source: Twitter/BHAFC

The 24-year-old Dublin native spoke in November of his belief that he could immediately step into the Ireland squad and be at home, but despite excelling for Dundalk, O’Neill felt that he did not merit inclusion in even the extended selections.

He is now eligible to play for Brighton and the top end of the Championship is the perfect place for him to showcase that his talents and convince skeptics that his exploits in the League of Ireland were a lot more than a case of the proverbial big fish in a small pond.

Towell was a regular for the Boys in Green at youth level, but should he wish to realise his dream of playing at senior level he will have to bring his sensational form to England. It’s unlikely that O’Neill will find room for the ex-Celtic youth, but if he repeats his goalscoring feats in England, there will be more people clamouring for his inclusion.

Robbie Keane

Robbie Keane finished Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign as the team’s top scorer thanks to five goals in two games against Gibraltar, but his powers are on the wane.

The 35-year-old is the record appearance holder and record goalscorer and has shown no signs of slowing down for LA Galaxy, where last season he struck 20 times in 25 Major League Soccer games.

Soccer - Robbie Keane File Photo Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Nevertheless, he was reduced to a role on the bench in the latter stages of qualifying, missing crucial games against Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina, with O’Neill preferring Ipswich Town’s Daryl Murphy in attack.

Keane’s presence in the squad is still valued though, even if his on-field worth has diminished, and he will probably board the plane to France. However, the former Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur striker must do so on the back of solid form for his club.

Aiden McGeady

Celtic manager Ronny Deila recently poured cold water on speculation linking Aiden McGeady with a return to Glasgow, suggesting that the midfielder’s wages would prove a major stumbling block.

“We would not be able to pay the salary that the likes of McGeady are on,” Deila said. “The difference is so unbelievably big that there is no chance. The wage structure would be broken 10 times if we did that!”

The 29-year-old is dangerously out-of-favour at Everton, making just one competitive appearance for the club this season: a 45-minute run-out against Barnsley in the League Cup.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Everton v Sunderland - Goodison Park Source: Barrington Coombs

It is looking increasingly likely that his future does not lie at Goodison Park and so McGeady may be forced to accept a reduction in pay for the good of his career, both in the short-term and long-term.

That said, McGeady’s lack of game time has not drastically affected his Ireland career. He continues to be selected by O’Neill and while he is not a guaranteed starter, he consistently makes final squads ahead of other in-form candidates such as Alan Judge and Harry Arter.

A lot of football will be played between January and June. McGeady must do everything in his power to ensure he is part of it.


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