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Which Irish player did enough last night to feature against Denmark?

Callum Robinson, Robbie Brady and Alan Browne are among those thought to be in contention to start next week.

Ireland's Callum Robinson celebrates scoring the third goal against New Zealand.
Ireland's Callum Robinson celebrates scoring the third goal against New Zealand.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

1. Which Irish player did enough last night to feature against Denmark?

IT WOULD BE fair to assume that, barring injury, nine Ireland players are effectively guaranteed to start against the Danes on Monday.

The individuals in question are: Darren Randolph, Matt Doherty, John Egan, Shane Duffy, Enda Stevens, Glenn Whelan, Jeff Hendrick, James McClean and David McGoldrick.

It was no major surprise, therefore, that none of these stars played a single minute of action against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium last night.

Every other player in the squad got game time with the exception of one individual — Scott Hogan — who has endured a tough time this season at Stoke and appears to have fallen down the Ireland pecking order as a result.

It seems, though, that there are two positions still up for grabs in the starting XI to play Denmark — one of the central midfield spots and the right wing.

The wide position would appear to be between Robbie Brady and Callum Robinson, while Alan Browne and Conor Hourihane are presumably vying for a place in the centre.

The fact that Brady played the full 90 minutes against the All Whites can be read in one of two ways — McCarthy was giving him game time now with the knowledge that he has no intention of using him next week, or perhaps he is simply improving his match sharpness with a view to starting him. Last night was just Brady’s second start of the season in all competitions, while it is the first time he has completed 90 minutes in nearly a year — Burnley’s 1-0 win over Brighton on 8 December 2018 was the last time he did so before Thursday evening.

The 27-year-old Dubliner was not quite back to his best against New Zealand — there were a few stray passes and moments where he could have been more alert defensively. But his set pieces caused problems, and Brady’s deadly left foot proved to be the source of the first Ireland goal, as Derrick Williams headed home powerfully. He also nearly set up Sean Maguire for another — his inch-perfect delivery was headed just wide by the 25-year-old.

You would suspect though that Callum Robinson is in the driving seat for a starting spot against the Danes. The Sheffield United player has not been at his best for club or country of late — he had to settle for an 87th-minute appearance in the Blades’ recent 1-1 draw with Spurs. Meanwhile, he was substituted in Ireland’s 0-0 stalemate with Georgia last month and did not appear in the subsequent match against Switzerland.

Yet Robinson’s old Preston team-mate Maguire might just have thrown a spanner in the works with a man-of-the-match performance last night. The Irish boss identified him as a standout player after the match.

The former Cork City man played in McCarthy’s first match in charge, the underwhelming 1-0 win away to Gibraltar, but delivered a subdued display that day and has not started a competitive Ireland game since.

Maguire produced a brilliant finish for the Boys in Green’s second goal and was generally lively. He has been playing in a wide attacking role with Preston recently. Last night, he played on the left, and it’s hard to imagine him displacing James McClean from the team. Putting him on the right-hand side of the attack, on the other hand, seems a more viable option.

Nonetheless, Robinson also got on the scoresheet, and was the most influential of Ireland’s substitutes. Consequently, he is probably still the slight favourite for a starting spot.

As for the midfield dilemma? Both Browne and Hourihane were solid without being spectacular. Previously, the latter was given the nod against Georgia, while the former took his place for the Swiss encounter.

Last night, Browne played the first 65 minutes before Hourihane stepped in. That fact would suggest McCarthy is edging towards favouring the Aston Villa man.

Particularly if Brady is left out, there are not many in the squad with Hourihane’s dead-ball prowess and that factor may swing this tough call in his favour.

McCarthy won’t have forgotten the brilliant free kick that the Cork native scored in the crucial home win over Georgia last March.

2. A low-key atmosphere but an above-average friendly

joe-bell-and-jack-byrne New Zealand’s Joe Bell and Jack Byrne of Ireland battle for the ball. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

When you think of friendlies, and Ireland friendlies in particular, they can often be quite bad to watch.

That dour spell where the team consistently struggled to score towards the end of the Martin O’Neill era is still relatively fresh in many fans’ memories.

Last night’s match initially appeared to have the makings of a similarly dreary occasion.

A crowd of 18,000 had been expected at the game, but that appeared to be a generous estimate when glancing around the stadium last night.

The atmosphere was consequently subdued, despite two of Irish football’s most promising youngsters (Troy Parrott and Lee O’Connor) being given their international debuts and the match representing the beginning of an international week that could conceivably end with Ireland sealing their spot at Euro 2020 and qualifying for a major tournament for just the seventh time in the country’s history.

Yet the fact that it was a meaningless game, coupled with the recent negativity generated by a combination of the team’s inept performances and the various FAI-related controversies, and of course the issue of it being a freezing cold November night on a Thursday, renders it perhaps understandable that so many stayed away.

Those that came, however, were treated to one of the more entertaining Ireland friendlies in recent memory. Before September, Ireland had gone over two years without scoring more than twice in a single game. Now, they have managed that feat in consecutive friendlies.

And it is perhaps reward for a bold team selection. Jack Byrne, Josh Cullen, Troy Parrott and Lee O’Connor among others may be highly inexperienced at this level, but they are proficient at keeping the ball and demonstrating good technical skills.

If these youngsters can continue to build on such progress, then perhaps future friendlies will prove more alluring to the Irish public irrespective of the context.

3. Troy Parrott makes long-awaited debut

It already feels like people have been talking about Troy Parrott since forever, such is the hype that has surrounded him.

So it’s amazing to think the Dublin-born striker is still only 17.

Last night was perhaps his biggest test yet, as the wider Irish footballing public finally got a chance to see the player that the more hardcore fans have been raving about already on account of some eye-catching U21 displays and YouTube highlight reels.

Mick McCarthy summed up his performance nicely afterwards. “Troy did okay. He didn’t set the world on fire, but what he did I was really pleased with. He ran the channels, had a couple of chances — I know everyone is desperate for him to score — but the ‘keeper thwarted him. I’m pleased, overall.”

The one chance Parrott missed was hardly an easy one. Otherwise, he showed good intelligence, both in his positioning and his ability to hold the ball up and win free kicks.

He won’t start against Denmark of course, but what bodes well is his nonchalance. Both in terms of the way he carried himself in the game and the manner in which he speaks during interviews, you don’t get the sense that he is fazed by the ever-increasing noise around him.

There is clearly fire in his belly too — he squared up to Winston Reid last night after a coming together between the pair, while he was sent off in his last U21 match following an altercation with Everton’s Moise Kean.

Overall though, for someone so young, he has taken to international football with admirable calmness and maturity.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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