Football

We May Lack Goals, But There's No Shortage Of Forward Options For Slovakia Play-Off

We May Lack Goals, But There's No Shortage Of Forward Options For Slovakia Play-Off

Last week we looked at the multitude of midfield options that Mick McCarthy has at his disposal for the upcoming play-off against Slovakia. Despite our midfield problems throughout the campaign, it seems that there is no shortage of competition for places.

The same can be said in the forward spots. By forwards, we mean both strikers and players who can play out wide. Many players fall into both categories.

There is likely to be eight to ten such squad places up for grabs, depending on how many players Mick McCarthy names in his final squad. We have looked at the prospects of all the players who are in with a shout of making the cut, and assess how likely they are to make the squad.

It certainly makes for interesting reading.

 Ireland Forward Options For Slovakia

David McGoldrick - Sheffield United

If you were just to look at David McGoldrick's raw stats, you would not be all that impressed. He has two assists to his name in the Premier League this season and has yet to find the back of the net.

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However, as Ireland and Sheffield United supporters know, so much of what he brings to a team does not show up on paper. The fact that Blades fans continue to rave about the player despite his lack of goals speaks volumes.

McGoldrick has arguably been Ireland's best player in this campaign and is a near certainty to start in Bratislava.

Prospects for Slovakia game: Almost certain to start.

Shane Long - Southampton

Left out of the last two squads under McCarthy, Shane Long has surely played himself back into contention for this one. The Tipperary native has been a key player for Southampton during their recent resurgence, acting as the perfect foil for Danny Ings up front.

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The Ireland manager has revealed that he is in constant contact with the player, which coupled with his upturn in form, would suggest a recall is on the cards.

Prospects for Slovakia game: Nailed on for the squad. Possible starter, likely an impact sub.

Robbie Brady - Burnley

Robbie Brady has not had the impact he would have desired in a green jersey over the last 12 months. Once looking like he would become the talisman for Ireland, he has become somewhat of a forgotten man under Mick McCarthy.

Much of that has been down to injury. He was given a couple of brief opportunities towards the end of the campaign but looked somewhat off the pace.

Brady has been a bit part player at Burnley this season. Despite this, it would be a surprise if he were left out for the play-offs.

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Prospects for Slovakia game: Likely to make the squad

Aaron Connolly - Brighton & Hove Albion

The goals may not have come at the pace we would have hoped for after that brace against Spurs, but Aaron Connolly has been impressive nonetheless. He is a real menace to opposing defenders and has an amazing ability to draw a foul. That could be invaluable to a team that values set-pieces so highly.

Considering Mick McCarthy places an emphasis on getting regular playing time, something Connolly has done in the Premier League, the Galway man has to be a lock for the squad.

His ability to play out wide as well as through the middle should count for a lot. Depending on the system Ireland use, he could start.

Prospects for Slovakia game: A shoe-in for the squad, he could start against Slovakia.

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Michael Obafemi - Southampton

Michael Obafemi has also played a part in Southampton's renaissance. He has not been in the team as consistently as Long, but has impressed when given the opportunity. His goal against Chelsea was certainly a timely reminder of the quality he possesses.

Mick McCarthy has indicated that he will be keeping a close eye on Obafemi in the coming weeks, telling the FAI website:

I’ve had Michael watched several times but this was the first time I’ve seen him live myself and I did like what I saw.

He linked up well with Danny Ings, he got in behind the Spurs defence and while he didn’t have that many shots himself, he was a constant nuisance for the opposition.

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As things stand, it seems a place in the squad is his to lose.

Prospects for Slovakia game: At the moment, he has one hand on a place in the squad.

Troy Parrott - Spurs

It's fair to say things have not gone Parrott's way since the appointment of Jose Mourinho. We were not optimistic about his prospects under the Portuguese manager, but things have somehow gone even worse than we imagined.

It seems as though he has forgotten that the Dubliner even exists.

Unless Parrott can secure a loan move in the coming days and then tear it up in the Championship, he looks to have been cut adrift from the other contenders.

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Prospects for Slovakia game: Unlikely to make the squad.

Adam Idah - Norwich City

It may have looked like Idah was a shoe-in for the squad after his FA Cup hat-trick, but his lack of playing time in the intervening weeks seems to have dampened those hopes. He now finds himself out of the matchday squad at Norwich once again.

He has been linked with a loan move, something he would likely require to play his way into contention.

Prospects for Slovakia game: Unlikely to make the squad.

Scott Hogan - Birmingham City (on loan from Aston Villa)

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Barring a remarkable upturn in form after his move to Birmingham City, it seems difficult to make a convincing case for Hogan's inclusion in the squad. He failed to make any impact during his time at Stoke City and looks completely out of sorts.

Still, McCarthy has a fondness for the former Brentford man. The player himself admitted last year that he didn't deserve to be anywhere near the squad but the Ireland manager picked him anyway.

With the other options now available, his inclusion seems unlikely.

Prospects for Slovakia game: He shouldn't be in the squad, but we wouldn't completely rule it out.

James Collins - Luton Town

Collins started in both Georgia and Switzerland but failed to do much on either occasion. Not all of that was his fault of course, but it would not instil much confidence that he could pull something out of the bag against Slovakia.

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His club form has also slowed down somewhat (he has only scored one goal from open play since November) after a strong start to the season suggesting he may have fallen down the pecking order at international level.

Shane Long's revival is unlikely to have done him any favours in this regard.

Prospects for Slovakia game: A borderline case, but he looks likely to miss out at the moment.

James McClean - Stoke City

After patchy form for much of 2019, James McClean has had a big upturn in fortunes at club level since the appointment of Michael O'Neill at Stoke City. He has been playing very well as of late, displaying the type of form that would justify his place in the Ireland team.

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McClean has played every minute of the campaign up to this point and you wouldn't expect that to change against Slovakia. He is a favourite of McCarthy and will likely be deployed on the left of a front three/midfield five.

 Prospects for Slovakia game: Based on selections in the campaign so far, McClean is a guaranteed starter.

Callum Robinson - West Brom (on loan from Sheffield United)

It will be interesting to see how Callum Robinson gets on in the coming weeks. He had found himself somewhat out of favour at Sheffield United in recent times, but the move to West Brom should offer him consistent playing time at a club battling for promotion from the Championship.

At his best, he has the potential to be a key player for Ireland. Unfortunately, he has not really showed that in this campaign.

Much of that has to do with the position he has played, with Robinson operating almost exclusively from the right wing. He lost his place for the last few games but will look to put himself back in the mix with some strong performances at club level.

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Prospects for Slovakia game: Definite squad member, outside chance to start.

Sean Maguire - Preston North End

After scoring his first Ireland goal in the friendly against New Zealand, Maguire will be hoping to make an impact on a far bigger stage in March. His goals have dried up somewhat at club level, but he continues to be an important player for Preston.

He will be in the squad, but is likely behind a couple of his Premier League compatriots in the pecking order.

 Prospects for Slovakia game: Nailed on for the squad, not likely to start.

Callum O'Dowda - Bristol City

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Callum O'Dowda has failed to kick on over the past 12 months or so. A contract stand-off slowed his progress at Bristol City and he has failed to establish himself in the team since signing a new deal, where his form has been fairly abysmal.

That should affect his international prospects, with the winger failing to make the matchday squad for the game against Denmark in November.

 Prospects for Slovakia game: Likely to miss out on the squad.

Paddy Madden - Fleetwood Town

Paddy Madden is the highest scoring Irishman in the top three divisions of English football. The 29-year old has not really been on the radar under Mick McCarthy, but with the Ireland manager showing little hesitation in selecting players from League One, he will have to at least be considered.

13 goals and two assists is certainly nothing to be sniffed at, even if he is unlikely to add to his one international cap in March due to his age. Still, another strong run in the coming weeks could make him a more realistic option.

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 Prospects for Slovakia game: Very little chance of making the squad.

Ronan Curtis - Portsmouth

10 September 2019; Ronan Curtis of Republic of Ireland during the 3 International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Mick McCarthy name-checked Curtis in the scouting report on the FAI website and it is not hard to see why. The Portsmouth forward was named League One Player if the Month for both November and December, meaning he is an man in form at the moment.

His 11 goals makes him the second most prolific Irish striker at that level, but Curtis is six years younger than Madden and spends the majority of his time operating from the left wing. That puts him higher on the pecking order, while he is also familiar to McCarthy.

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He missed out last time, but he is certainly in with a shot.

Prospects for Slovakia game: Could well be in the squad, but likely depends on how many players are included.

Kieran Sadlier - Doncaster Rovers

Sadlier is another player finding the back of the net with regularity in League One, notching ten goals so far in the campaign. He also has four assists to his name.

Yet to make his international debut, and with Curtis more familiar to McCarthy, it looks like this one has probably come a bit too soon for the former Cork City man.

Prospects for Slovakia game: Unlikely to make the squad.

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Alan Judge - Ipswich Town

Judge has been a consistent fixture in Mick McCarthy's squads, but it would seem difficult to justify his inclusion for the Slovakia game. He has been outperformed by a number of other players operating in the same division, while some younger players have also come to the fore in the Premier League.

While he does admittedly operate a bit deeper, the fact that he has only one league goal to the ten and 11 of Sadlier and Curtis respectively should count for something.

Prospects for Slovakia game: A favourite of McCarthy's, but it would be difficult to justify his inclusion in the squad. He is likely to miss out.

Will Keane - Ipswich Town

This one would be a huge bolter, but he has been mentioned by Mick McCarthy in the last few days. Keane has sorted out his Irish passport and is eligible for selection. Having recently returned from injury, he is the type of striker Mick McCathy likes to have in his side.

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Despite this, his selection would be unlikely to go down well with Irish supporters. He has also been outperformed by the likes of Curtis and Sadlier, making this one a bit of a non-starter.

Prospects for Slovakia game: Very unlikely to make the squad.

Summary

There are a number of players all but guaranteed to be included. David McGoldrick, James McClean, Aaron Connolly, Shane Long, Sean Maguire, and Callum Robinson all look nailed -n. You can likely include Robbie Brady on that list, despite his relative lack of playing time.

From here, it depends how many forward options includes in the squad. There is likely to be at least eight, meaning one spot is still up for grabs.

Right now, it looks like that would go to Michael Obafemi. The Southampton striker has been in excellent form and offers something a bit different to the other players mentioned above.

This is where things get tricky. Ten forward players were included in the squad for the New Zealand and Denmark games, but was a 28-man list. With this being a play-off, and  no friendlies involved, a 26-player final squad would probably be the largest McCarthy would pick.

If there is only one more spot available, Ronan Curtis seems the favourite due to his ability to play out wide and strong recent form.

SEE ALSO: Liverpool Decided Against Signing James McCarthy Despite Remarkable Trial Goal

Gary Connaughton

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