Tuesday 12 December 2017

O'Neill has five difficult choices to make

Core group picks itself but fringe men can still make cut for finals

Darren Randolph should be on the plane to France next summer
Darren Randolph should be on the plane to France next summer
James McClean is a certainty to be included but the same can’t be said for Darron Gibson and Shane Duffy

Martin O'Neill makes a habit of naming a huge squad before internationals but he must take out a scalpel and make some deep cuts to find 23 men to travel to France for the Euro 2016 final.

Both O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane spoke about loyalty after beating Bosnia but qualified remarks about players who served them well on the way to France with a stern warning about the need for first-team football and match fitness.

Both are pragmatists and neither will hesitate to make a hard call even if a household name or hard working servant suffers as a result.

As many as 18 names already have a Euro 2016 stamp on their passport but O'Neill will have some weeding to do when UEFA ask for his final selection just before the tournament begins on June 10.


Hands up anyone who was completely happy when Darren Randolph's name appeared on the team sheet for Ireland's home game against Germany.

Not many? Sheepish grins all around because this one's a keeper - in every way.

Picking three goalkeepers will not be easy for O'Neill. Randolph is in the box seat now but after that it's a bit more complicated.

Rob Elliot has a decent chance of putting in some hours for Newcastle and Keiren Westwood will play regularly for Sheffield Wednesday if he can stay fit.

But then there's Shay Given. To make the cut, he really must get a loan move and find some football. Otherwise the only thing he has going for him is experience and let's be honest, he had that at Euro 2012 and came up short.

David Forde has every reason to feel put upon but that will not win him a place in the squad. He has only had four games for Millwall in League One and he must play more to have any chance.

Golden ticket: Randolph, Elliott, Given.

Stand-by: Westwood, Forde.

Wild card: Stephen Henderson.


When O'Neill first took over, this would have been a very easy job. He had so few options.

Giovanni Trapattoni took seven defenders to Poland and O'Neill will have a few hard choices to make if he follows that formula.

Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Richard Keogh, Ciarán Clark and Cyrus Christie are certainties and Robbie Brady, another must-travel, has played most of his football for Ireland to date at left-full so if he is counted as a defender, that will leave an almighty scrap for one spot.

Marc Wilson is a gifted player but he hasn't made an impact at international level and he doesn't play too often for Stoke either. His value is in his versatility. He can cover centre-back, left-full and central midfield.

Paul McShane, Stephen Ward, Alex Pearce and, perhaps, a wild card like Shane Duffy will be fighting with Wilson for the last place.

O'Neill's hardest call could well be to exclude Ward who gave him so much in very difficult circumstances for player and manager, but there is always the possibility that he will name Brady in midfield and that would open the door to Ward - providing he can get some football in his legs.

Golden ticket: O'Shea, Keogh, Coleman, Clark, Christie, Brady, Wilson.

Stand-by: Ward, McShane, Pearce, Greg Cunningham.

Wild card: Shane Duffy.


O'Neill's hardcore in midfield is headed by Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy with Jeff Hendrick not far behind.

Trapattoni went with eight in the middle of the park and working to that template, Wes Hoolahan and James McClean bring the total to five and it is almost unthinkable that O'Neill will head to France without Aiden McGeady.

David Meyler looks a good bet to travel. He is liked by both O'Neill and Roy Keane and earned their respect when he slotted in at right-full against Germany.

So just one place up for grabs and the candidates are Darron Gibson, Harry Arter, Stephen Quinn (out until the New Year after knee surgery), Anthony Pilkington, Alan Judge and Eunan O'Kane.

Gibson's fate could depend on whether Quinn comes back strongly after his knee surgery and will depend on Roberto Martinez.

There were positive signs for him at the weekend when he came on as McCarthy's replacement with six minutes left of Everton's 4-0 win over Aston Villa.

Golden ticket: Whelan, McCarthy, Hendrick, Hoolahan, McClean, McGeady, Meyler, Quinn.

Stand-by: Gibson, Arter, Pilkington, O'Kane, Paul Green.

Wild card: Alan Judge.


Ireland managers have never been over-supplied with strikers and O'Neill won't have any sleepless nights picking his final five up front.

Jon Walters will be the first name on the list, Shane Long not far behind and Robbie Keane is guaranteed his ticket.

Daryl Murphy need only stay fit and he will be included and Kevin Doyle is the natural fit to complete the list.

O'Neill must be frustrated with David McGoldrick's ongoing injury struggles because the Ipswich striker offers more than just a goal supply.

He missed the big nights against Bosnia because of a groin strain but showed enough in friendlies against the USA and England to suggest that he can be a playmaker, a fact which Murphy had reason to be thankful for during his barnstorming season for Ipswich.

Golden ticket: Walters, Long, Keane, Murphy, Doyle.

Stand-by; Adam Rooney, Anthony Stokes, Simon Cox.

Wild card: McGoldrick.

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