New year, new Ireland?
The last couple of years have been very up and down for the Republic of Ireland, with spells of dire form followed by some good moments and a few false dawns.
2023 will be a big year for Stephen Kenny. While few people are expecting them to finish ahead of France or the Netherlands in their Euro 2024 group, they will want to see a more consistent level of performance from the group.
The lack of friendlies over the next 12 months will make blooding new squad members difficult, although there are some names that could potentially break through.
Here are five players who could make their Ireland debuts in 2023.
Potential Ireland debutants in 2023
Joe Hodge (Wolves)
Joe Hodge is the type of player that the Irish midfield is crying out for. The team has made strides in retaining possession under Stephen Kenny, although the lack of ball playing midfielders has often been an issue in breaking down opposition teams.
Hodge is one potential solution. Having burst onto the scene at Manchester City, he had a couple of very difficult years with injuries.
Thankfully, he has gotten back on track since his move to Wolves. He has made five appearances in the Premier League this season, with new manager Julen Lopetegui seemingly a fan of his as he has featured in two of their last three games.
Should he continue to get any sort of consistent playing time at Molineux, it would be a huge surprise were he not to earn his first Ireland cap at some point this year.
Festy Ebosele (Udinese)
Festy Ebosele has been called up at senior level, but he has yet to win his first Ireland cap.
Having made the move from Derby County to Udinese in the summer, he has found playing time somewhat hard to come by. The 20-year old has made three brief appearances off the bench in Serie A, although he has been a fixture in their matchday squads.
There have been rumours that he could go on loan to fellow Serie A club Salernitana, where more opportunities for minutes should be available. If he can get a run in the team, an Ireland cap should not be too far away.
The Wexford native would become the first senior international from the county since Kevin Doyle.
Will Smallbone (Stoke City, on loan from Southampton)
Will Smallbone was in the Ireland squad during the November international window, but failed to get any minutes.
He is the type of creative midfielder that Ireland have lacked over the last few years, showing what he can offer during his time with the U21 side last year.
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) June 6, 2022
Having recovered from a horrific knee injury, he was sent out on loan to Stoke City to get some consistent playing time this season. He has made 24 appearances in the Championship so far and has certainly built up his fitness.
It would not be a surprise to see him in the squad for the games in March.
Sammie Szmodics (Blackburn Rovers)
Perhaps a less familiar name to supporters than some of the others on this list Sammie Szmodics is one to keep an eye on in 2023. He has been part of Ireland squads in the past, although he has yet to make his debut.
The 27-year old put in some very impressive performances for Peterborough over the last couple of years, joining Blackburn last summer. Since then, he has made 16 appearances and scored three goals in the Championship.
An attacking midfielder, he plays in a position where Ireland are not exactly blessed with options.
Conor Coventry (West Ham United)
Conor Coventry finds himself in a very similar position to the one that Josh Cullen was in a couple of years ago.
He is clearly a very good footballer, although he has found playing time hard to come by at West Ham. As a result, senior international opportunities have not been forthcoming.
Coventry should follow Cullen's lead by leaving the club. Since he left London, he has established himself as a key contributor at both club and international level.
Having spent his entire career at West Ham, his contract is up at the end of this season. You'd imagine that will end his time at the club, perhaps even as soon as this month.
Stephen Kenny is a big fan of Coventry, having handed him the captain's armband at U21 level. A run of consistent playing time at club level should result in international honours before the end of the year.