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Dublin: 1°C Friday 23 April 2021

Do you agree with our Irish football XI of the year?

There are two criteria: impress us and fit into a coherent 4-3-3 formation.

COMMENTERS, RAISE YOUR weapons: here follows our selection for an XI of male Irish internationals from 2019.  (We’re going for a 4-3-3 formation.)

Goalkeeper – Darren Randolph

darren-randolph-saves-a-penalty Darren Randolph saves a penalty against Switzerland. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

International fans coming upon this story and realising that the Champions League-winning ‘keeper doesn’t even make the team of the year may recoil in jealousy at our options…once we leave out the fine print which states that Caoimhin Kelleher made his senior Liverpool debut three months after that final in Madrid. It was a good year for the Cork native nonetheless, as it was for Mark Travers, who made a senior Irish bow after a man-of-the-match Premier League debut for Bournemouth earlier this year.  But in spite of the distance travelled by both, there is no dislodging Darren Randolph, who once again proved himself key to Ireland across the Euro 2020 qualification. West Ham, foostering about at the wrong end of the table without a reliable back-up ‘keeper, must surely regret selling him. 

Right-back – Matt Doherty 

matt-doherty-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-first-goal Matt Doherty wheels away after scoring against Denmark. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Seamus Coleman endured a somewhat turbulent year at Everton, where he had to deal with a few malcontent murmurs from fans and fight for his spot with more tenacity than ever. Marco Silva often preferred Jonjoe Kenny at the start of the year, and Silva’s reign ended with Djibril Sidibe impressing in Coleman’s stead.  He nonetheless forced his way back into the side, and while he was reliable for Ireland, he lacked the forward thrust of previous campaigns.  Doherty, meanwhile, drove Ireland forward from that position in those closing minutes at home to Denmark, and scored to somewhat atone for his error on their goal.  He has had an outstanding year with Wolves, and has even chipped in with five goals. By Ireland’s meagre standards, that’s a deluge.

Centre-backs – Shane Duffy and John Egan 

shane-duffy-and-john-egan-dejected-after-the-game Shane Duffy and John Egan after Ireland's defeat in Geneva. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Duffy is a shoo-in, in spite of lately losing his place at Brighton under Graham Potter. He remained his country’s most reliable source of goals, and was outstanding defensively. If he is forced from Brighton owing to his manager’s style of play, it’s entirely possible he will be picked up by a side that finishes above them in the table.  Kevin Long impressed for Ireland but was pretty much absent from the Burnley side again – joking during the year he might even be on the bench in his testimonial – while Ciaran Clark has impressed since forcing his way back into the Newcastle side.  Things were going well for Richard Keogh until, well, you know, while Darragh Lenihan has established himself at Blackburn and Nathan Collins captained Stoke City before he even made his debut for the Irish U21s.  But our second pick is John Egan, who has been elevated to the Premier League and first-choice with Ireland and hardly put a foot wrong since. 

Left-back – Enda Stevens

enda-stevens Enda Stevens in action against Bulgaria. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Greg Cunningham was motoring nicely at Blackburn before his season was cruelly cut short by injury, but he was never going to dislodge Stevens from this team. He has been hugely impressive for Sheffield United thus far this season, and having initially looked slightly timid for Ireland at the start of this campaign, he grew to become a vital player toward the end of the campaign and was missed on that wretched afternoon in Tbilisi. 

Defensive midfield – Glenn Whelan

glenn-whelan Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

 Jayson Molumby is making the most of his shot at first-team football with Millwall and is enjoying international life under Stephen Kenny, while James McCarthy is happily fit again but has failed to make inroads into either the Everton or Crystal Palace teams.  Josh Cullen, meanwhile, has been mightily impressive for Charlton and in both of his friendly cameos for Ireland.  Plus, there were some pretty big strides made by Decla- ah, we won’t go there.  But it’s got to be Whelan, who was plucked from retirement by Mick McCarthy and turned in some of his best performances of his Irish career. Cut adrift from Aston Villa after their promotion, he has shown no diminution in hunger and has become an important player for Hearts. 

Midfield – Conor Hourihane and Jack Byrne 

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jack-byrne Jack Byrne during his first senior international start against New Zealand. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Jeff Hendrick has held down a regular place at Burnley – an ambition of Robbie Brady’s at the moment – while Callum O’Dowda and Alan Browne have flitted about the edges of Mick McCarthy’s team while remaining important for their clubs.  Alan Judge has had some fine moments for Ireland in spite of dropping to League One with Ipswich, while Connor Ronan‘s senior Irish debut can’t be more than a year away.  In this team, however, we are picking Conor Hourihane - who has dealt pretty well with the step-up to the Premier League and made significant moments with Ireland if not consistency – and Jack Byrne, whose elevation to senior Irish international following a dominant season with Shamrock Rovers proved a rare good story in a bleak year for Irish football. 

Striker – David McGoldrick 

david-mcgoldrick-celebrates-scoring-the-equalising-goal David McGoldrick celebrates his equaliser against Switzerland. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

We haven’t been blessed by strikers this year: Shane Long has yet to even play under McCarthy; Michael Obafemi and Aiden O’Brien haven’t quite kicked on as we might have envisaged; Scott Hogan admitted he was surprised to be named in an Irish squad near the end of the year; while Sean Maguire, Ronan Curtis and James Collins have had fine years, they haven’t done enough to dislodge Didzy from this team, who has emerged as a critical player for Sheffield United and Ireland. 

Wide forwards – Aaron Connolly and Troy Parrott

troy-parrott Troy Parrott makes his senior Irish debut against New Zealand. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Aaron Connolly is a shoo-in for this team, having established himself as a Premier League regular having scored twice on his full debut against Spurs. He may play up front for Brighton, but he is squeezed in here under the technicality that he has played wide under Stephen Kenny.  The other place is trickier to fill. James McClean was a regular in the senior team but his form was nothing like it was a couple of years ago, while Michael Duffy may curse his luck that Martin O’Neill left the Irish job when he did, given the Dundalk forward looked set for a call-up under the now-former manager.  By contrast, Zach Elbouzedi has thrived at U21 level and earned a transfer to Lincoln City off the back of a glowing Kenny recommendation, while Gavin Kilkenny capped a promising year with a new contract with Bournemouth.  But we have to find a place for Troy Parrott. A Premier League debut and a senior international debut followed his becoming the first Irish player to play for Spurs since Robbie Keane.  God knows Irish football needs something to look forward to in the future.   

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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