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Which defenders will Ireland take to the Euros?

Martin O’Neill faces a few tough calls ahead of the squad announcement on 28 May.

Probables

John O’Shea (Sunderland)

Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying - Play-off - Second Leg - Aviva Stadium Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Total appearances this season: 34
League appearances this season: 25

JOHN O’SHEA HAS not had the best of seasons at club level and has been left out of the team by Sam Allardyce at Sunderland of late.

However, for Ireland, the Waterford native has been consistently excellent, and so he will almost certainly start in the back four this summer, despite Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark impressing in his absence through injury against Bosnia in the playoffs.

Seamus Coleman (Everton)

Watford v Everton - Barclays Premier League - Vicarage Road Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Total appearances this season: 39
League appearances this season: 28

Everton’s Coleman has been injured of late and missed their recent FA Cup semi-final with Man United. However, the talented 27-year-old right-back is expected to be back before the end of the season, and will certainly be in Ireland’s starting XI this summer if fit.

Robbie Brady (Norwich)

West Bromwich Albion v Norwich City - Barclays Premier League - The Hawthorns Source: Martin Rickett

Total appearances this season: 41
League appearances this season: 33

Brady has been one of the few bright sparks for Norwich this season, justifying the £7 million that the Canaries spent on him in the summer.

For club and country alike, Brady has been played at both full-back and midfield, and it’s still not entirely certain where he will line out come June.

Most people will argue that Brady can be defensively naive and is therefore better in a more advanced position, however, with Ireland’s lack of options at left-back, he may be needed there.

Richard Keogh (Derby)

Charlton Athletic v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship -  The Valley Source: EMPICS Sport

Total appearances this season: 50
League appearances this season: 45

Derby’s captain and a key performer for the Championship outfit, playing in every single one of their league games so far this season, Keogh was even named the club’s player of the year recently.

With Ireland, the 29-year-old has been similarly reliable, putting in a number of excellent performances and despite only having 11 caps, already seeming like a key member of the side. Expect him to start alongside O’Shea at the heart of the defence this summer.

Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)

Ireland Bosnia Euro Soccer Source: Peter Morrison

Total appearances this season: 27
League appearances this season: 17

Martin O’Neill has known Clark since he was a youngster at Aston Villa and clearly trusts him.

Like every other Villa player, the 26-year-old hasn’t had the best of seasons at club level.

However, for Ireland, Clark has barely put a foot wrong in recent times, proving an able deputy for John O’Shea during the Bosnia playoff matches.

Stephen Ward (Burnley)

Huddersfield Town v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship - John Smith's Stadium Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Total appearances this season: 29
League appearances this season: 23

Stephen Ward has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround of late. Of his first four games this season, two were crucial Ireland matches (the Germany home match and the Bosnia away game). He had to wait until 28 December to make his first Championship start of the season, however since then, the Dubliner has been a regular for Sean Dyche’s side, who have just gained promotion to the Premier League at the first attempt, having been relegated from the top flight last season.

Ward has also been a regular in Martin O’Neill’s squads and he will almost certainly travel to France. He may even make the Euros starting XI if Martin O’Neill opts to play Robbie Brady in midfield.

Cyrus Christie (Derby)

Republic of Ireland v Slovakia - International Friendly - Aviva Stadium Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Total appearances this season: 45
League appearances this season: 41

In addition to performing well and being a virtual ever-present for Derby in the Championship this season, Christie has never failed to impress in the four games he has played for Ireland since making his debut in a friendly against the USA in November 2014.

He looked particularly assured in the one truly big game he has been involved in at international level — the 1-0 win against Germany last October. He won’t start ahead ahead of Coleman, but he looks certain to travel as Ireland’s replacement right-back (or even stand-in left-back possibly) for the Euros.

Possibles

Shane Duffy (Blackburn)

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Blackburn Rovers v Charlton Athletic - Ewood Park Source: EMPICS Sport

Total appearances this season: 42
League appearances this season: 40

Duffy went from having almost no chance to being in with a decent shout owing to his hugely impressive performance in the 1-0 friendly win over Switzerland back in March. However, with only eight defenders likely to travel, the 24-year-old’s lack of international experience could count against him, with Marc Wilson also in the frame for that final slot (presuming O’Neill doesn’t decide to bring them both).

That said, Duffy has been extremely impressive for Blackburn this season, garnering Premier League interest, and he is regarded as the future of Irish football, with players such as John O’Shea unlikely to be around for too much longer.

Marc Wilson (Stoke)

Britain Soccer Premier League Source: Rui Vieira

Total appearances this season: 11
League appearances this season: 4

A year or so ago, Wilson probably would have been considered a virtual certainty to be part of any Irish squad for a major tournament. However, injuries and a loss of form have hampered the player’s development of late. Nevertheless, Wilson is probably the favourite ahead of Duffy for the final slot, given his ability to cover both centre-back and the problematic left-back position.

Nonetheless, Wilson’s injury record and lack of game time with Stoke this season could count against him, so he is far from guaranteed a place on the plane.

Outside bets

Alex Pearce (Bristol City, on loan from Derby)

Soccer - UEFA Euro 2016 - Qualifying - Group D - Republic of Ireland v Scotland - Republic of Ireland Training - Gannon Park Source: Niall Carson

Total appearances this season: 9
League appearances this season: 6

It’s been a disappointing season for Alex Pearce. He has barely played, either for parent club Derby or at Bristol City, since moving there on loan.

Martin O’Neill still seems to consider him an option though, despite his indifferent club form. The 27-year-old played 45 minutes of Ireland’s most recent friendly — the 2-2 draw against Slovakia — and the Slovaks didn’t score while Pearce was on the field.

That said, several others appear to be ahead of Pearce in the pecking order, and so, he will probably only travel if one or two players pick up injuries.

Greg Cunningham (Preston)

Preston North End v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship - Deepdale Source: EMPICS Sport

Total appearances this season: 46
League appearances this season: 43

A consistent performer for Preston in the Championship, Cunningham has been called into a few of Martin O’Neill’s squads as cover for the left-back position. Nonetheless, he still only has earned four caps for the Boys in Green, the last of which was won back in 2013.

Moreover, Cunningham’s failure to make the final 33-man squad for the games against Switzerland and Slovakia indicates that he is well behind others in the pecking order.

Matt Doherty (Wolves)

West Ham United v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Emirates FA Cup - Third Round - Upton Park Source: Steven_Paston

Total appearances this season: 37
League appearances this season: 33

Doherty received his first Ireland call-up for the games against Switzerland and Slovakia, and at 24, he may well be someone who figures more prominently in future.

And while Doherty has had a decent season with Wolves, the fact that he was an unused sub in both Ireland’s recent friendly games indicates a Euros spot is unlikely.

On the other hand, if Seamus Coleman’s injury problems persist, then Doherty could be in with a decent chance of earning a surprise call-up.

Paul McShane (Reading)

Reading v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

Total appearances this season: 40
League appearances this season: 34

McShane has impressed since joining Reading last summer, and was more or less immediately named as captain of his new club.

However, the Wicklow native appears a long shot to make the 23-man Ireland squad for the Euros. He was at fault for at least one of the goals in the recent friendly against Slovakia, and so, in a match where he needed to impress, he ultimately ended up harming his chances of travelling.

Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace)

Manchester United v Crysal Palace - Barclays Premier League - Old Trafford Source: EMPICS Sport

Total appearances this season: 37
League appearances this season: 30

Palace manager Alan Pardew earlier this season indicated that Delaney would be open to ending his international exile. However, O’Neill still appears reluctant to call upon Delaney, questioning his age in a recent interview.

Nevertheless, at club level, the 34-year-old has arguably been Ireland’s best-performing centre-back for the past two seasons, and he is set to feature in the FA Cup final for Palace against United later this month. It seems highly unlikely at this late stage, but with a number of Irish centre-backs enduring below-par seasons, there is a case to belatedly bring the Cork native into the set-up, particularly if one or two of the more experienced defenders suffer injuries.

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Paul Fennessy

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