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The Breakthrough Ireland XI: Players For Martin O'Neill To Consider

The Breakthrough Ireland XI: Players For Martin O'Neill To Consider
By PJ Browne Updated

Following March 24th's crucial World Cup qualifier against Wales, Ireland play two friendlies. The first, against Iceland, comes four days after Ireland play Wales. The second, versus Uruguay, is in early June, a week prior to the qualifier against Austria. Both games should given Martin O'Neill leeway to experiment with his team. Not just in terms of tactics but also possibly personnel.

This is an XI of players O'Neill should consider as contenders to make a breakthrough into his squad.

Brian Murphy

The 33-year-old recently broke into the Cardiff first team after signing for the Championship side back in September.

The Waterford man has been part of Ireland squads in the past but never made an appearance for Ireland at senior international level.

Matt Doherty

Though right-footed, Doherty is usually deployed at left-back for Wolves. He was named the club's Player of the Season last year following a move to left-back midway through 2015/16.

The Dubliner's ability to play in either fullback position could be useful for Martin O'Neill. The 24-year-old is also effective attacking from fullback. This season, he's scored three times and has four assists.

John Egan

After joining Brentford from Gillingham during the summer, Egan has impressed. The 24-year-old has an average rating of 7.30 with WhoScored.com this season.


The Corkman is also a threat from set pieces. He's got three goals in 25 Championship appearances this season.

Andy Boyle

Martin O'Neill acknowledged Boyle's abilities late last year with a call-up to the Ireland squad for the qualifier against Austria. The 25-year-old's abilities were further recognised when, along with Daryl Horgan, he made the move from Dundalk to Preston.

Though Horgan has already made his debut, Preston manager Simon Grayson said Boyle's transition into the team may take a little bit longer as he adapts to playing as part of a back three or back five.

Greg Cunningham

It's nearly four years since Greg Cunningham pulled on an Ireland shirt. The left-back has four caps in all.

Injuries have held back his progression since looking a real prospect while at Man City. Now 25, the Galway man looks to have found a home with Preston - he was their Player of the Year last season.

During his last cap against Poland, the green shirt looked baggy on Cunningham. Anyone who hasn't seen him play since might be surprised to see how he has developed physically. He now looks a real presence.


He has an average rating of 7.25 with WhoScored.com this season.

Chris Forrester

Bar Chris Forrester, everyone else in this XI plays their football in the Championship. That might not be the case come the end of January. Forrester has been linked with moves away from Peterborough, including to Reading. The passing style of Jaap Stam's side would certainly suit Forrester.

After primarily playing as a winger while at St. Pat's, Forrester was converted to a deep-lying midfielder upon joining Peterborough and has flourished in the position.

Conor Hourihane

Last season, Hourihane helped lift Barnsley from League One to the Championship. This season, Barnsley are eighth in the second tier of English football, just four points off the playoff places. With five goals and 11 assists, Hourihane has been a major factor in the club's good form.

The Corkman may not be long for Oakwell, though. The Premier League is calling with Sunderland and Middlesbrough both rumoured to be interested as are Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship.

He is also an excellent set piece taker.

Liam Kelly

Like Ryan Manning, this has been a breakthrough season for Liam Kelly. The diminutive midfielder has made 10 appearances for Reading in the Championship this seeason, scoring his first goal in the 3-2 comeback win against Bristol City on January 2nd.

Kelly is a real bundle of energy in midfield, constantly moving and rarely giving the ball away.

Reading technical director Brian Tevreden told GetReading.co.uk during the summer about how manager Jaap Stam immediately recognised the 21-year-old's abilities.


Liam Kelly is a beautiful story. When I came in six months ago I saw him and I immediately asked, who is this small kid? Everyone said he is not a kid anymore, he has been here a long time.

Then when Jaap came in I didn’t tell him anything about the academy players, I wanted to see if he saw the same thing that I saw. And the first thing he said was who is the youngster? I said that’s Liam Kelly - and now he’s involved with the first-team.

Reading born and raised, Kelly has represented Ireland at U21 level and is capable of producing sublime moments like this.


Daryl Horgan

Just like he grasped the opportunity to showcase his abilities in the Europa League with Dundalk, Horgan's brief cameo against Arsenal in his Preston debut was an impressive one.

It will be interesting if he can replicate those excellent Europa League performances regularly in the Championship.

Ryan Manning

The sacking of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and the installment of Ian Holloway at QPR was a big moment for Ryan Manning's career. The 20-year-old looked set to leave Loftus Road but Holloway saw something in the 20-year-old he liked.

Manning made his debut for the club on New Year's Eve, a 2-1 win away to Wolves. He's started all three games since then, including two more Championship wins against Ipswich and Reading. The latter included Manning laying on the winner for Jamie Mackie.

Lukas Jutkiewicz

It was recently reported that 27-year-old Jutkiewicz was on Martin O'Neill's radar.

Though an Irish-born grandmother has been mentioned in reports, the player himself is unsure of his eligibility for Ireland.

More certain is Jutkiewicz's ability to hit the net in the Championship this season. He's done so eight times in 20 league appearances for Birmingham.



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