Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Laszlo Geczo/INPHO The Irish team (file pic).
# looking ahead
Do you agree with our Ireland team to face Azerbaijan?
Stephen Kenny has some tough decisions to make ahead of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier.


GAVIN BAZUNU has established himself as Ireland’s number one with a string of fine recent performances, so either Mark Travers or Caoimhin Kelleher will likely not be earning a competitive cap anytime soon.

In defence, Kenny has generally favoured a three-man backline of late. John Egan, Shane Duffy and Andrew Omobamidele all performed well in the Serbia game, so those three look best-placed to feature again.

Promising Burnley star Nathan Collins is the centre-back set to be held in reserve.


With Seamus Coleman out, Matt Doherty is almost certain to start despite his indifferent form at Tottenham, where he has made just one substitute appearance in the Premier League this season.

Cyrus Christie provides backup on that flank, while the returning Enda Stevens might just edge out James McClean on the other side given that he is a more natural fit for the position and plays at a higher level.

Late call-up Liam Scales is unlikely to feature from the outset, though his versatility in being able to play centre-back or wing-back may earn him a place on the bench at least.


Having previously been on the periphery of the team, Anderlecht’s Josh Cullen has become a favourite under Kenny, starting in every game during the previous window.

He will probably line up in midfield alongside Jeff Hendrick, as he did in the recent qualifiers against Portugal and Serbia. The Newcastle man hasn’t enjoyed a good start to the season, featuring just twice in the Premier League, though encouragingly, he did score after coming off the bench in the 2-1 defeat to Wolves on Saturday.

The identity of the third man in there is difficult to predict. Jamie McGrath, Jason Knight and Conor Hourihane are all decent options. Knight has been picked frequently in the past, earning seven caps so far in total, though much could depend on the 20-year-old Derby midfielder’s level of fitness, as he has only just got back from injury that rendered him unavailable for the start of the season.

McGrath started against both Portugal and Serbia, and is probably the slight favourite to do so again, particularly with Alan Browne unavailable due to suspension. The St Mirren man’s creativity and goal threat could come in useful against a side who will inevitably stick bodies behind the ball and be hard to beat.

Harry Arter, meanwhile, did not get any game time in the last window and will probably have to be content with a place on the bench again.


Kenny likes playing with a big man up top generally, and Adam Idah started all three games in the previous window. James Collins will likely be used as an impact sub, as he was against Portugal, Azerbaijan and Serbia, but who plays alongside the Norwich youngster is probably one of Kenny’s more difficult decisions.

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Callum Robinson, Aaron Connolly, Daryl Horgan, Troy Parrott, Will Keane, and Chiedozie Ogbene are the other attacking options available.

A two-man attack wouldn’t really suit Horgan or Ogbene while throwing the uncapped Keane in at the deep end appears unlikely.

Parrott hasn’t really done enough in the competitive games to warrant a starting spot, which leaves Robinson and Connolly.

The Brighton man’s finishing let him down, but his pace and movement still caused the Portuguese defence major problems last month and he could be an asset to Ireland again either from the start or off the bench.

With Robinson, Covid restricted his involvement and impact in the last window, but he has been playing regularly for West Brom, who are currently second in the Championship, so his club form is better than many in the Ireland squad and that just might mean he gets the nod to start on Saturday.

Predicted Ireland team: Bazunu; Duffy, Omobamidele, Egan; Doherty, Stevens; Hendrick, Cullen, McGrath; Robinson, Idah.

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