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Ireland's Biggest Euro 2016 Worry Became All Too Clear This Weekend

Ireland's Biggest Euro 2016 Worry Became All Too Clear This Weekend
By Gary Reilly Updated

It's less than five months away from kick off and thoughts of the Irish squad are becoming more and more pressing.

The strikers are as good as set. Long, Keane, Walters, Murphy. If anyone manages to break in there then they'll either have to go on an incredible run of scoring form or one of the above will be hit with injury.

You'd have to think that, at the moment, the goalkeepers will be Randolph, Given and Elliot. That's open to change depending on the form of Westwood and Forde but, in reality, it's not something we'll worry too much about. Up until now, it's been the midfield where the most debate has taken place. At least two spots are up for grabs and countless column inches have been devoted to predicting who might fill them.

However, Martin O'Neill's biggest headache less than five months out from Euro 2016 has gone largely under the radar. The reality of the situation is that, since we qualified for France, Ireland's defensive options have been in a bit of a tailspin.

We knew our defence was nothing special but the qualifying campaign would suggest that the passion and desire that we have in spades will be enough to bring to the biggest stage. In reality, there's some ominous shades of four years ago appearing. We went into Euro 2012 with a defence of St Ledger, Dunne, O'Shea and Ward. The qualifying campaign saw us concede just seven goals in ten games thanks in no small part to the heroics of Richard Dunne.

We went headed for Poland thinking that Moscow-esque performances were possible on the biggest stage and we were found out horribly. Fast forward to this year, once again we conceded just seven goals and once again we head into an extremely difficult group with a defence that independent observers would suggest just aren't up for the job.

Including Robbie Brady who's likely to be a hybrid defender/attacker depending on opposition, Martin O'Neill will probably bring eight defenders to France.  As things stand, those eight players are likely to be Coleman, O'Shea, Keogh, Wilson, Christie, Clark, Ward and Brady with the first three of those likely to be automatic starters and the left back spot open to change depending on form and what we need from the game.

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It's acceptable. Nothing more, nothing less. However, if we think we'll be able to head off to France and make do with what we've got then this weekend's club action may be a significant wakeup call.

Richard Keogh 

Things had been going okay for Derby and Keogh this season. A slow start was put behind them and Paul Clement's side quickly put themselves in the promotion reckoning. However, their post Christmas form has been nothing short of woeful with a 3-0 defeat to Birmingham being followed by a 4-1 defeat to Burnley on Monday in what was a night to forget for Keogh.

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Having scored an own goal, Keogh gave away a penalty to compound a disastrous evening and the realities of Keogh's failings became clear once again. Keogh's performances in qualifying were nothing short of remarkable. Granted, you don't want to see him take more than a couple of touches but he did what he needed to do and his display against Germany was straight out of the Richard Dunne book of how to drag your country to a clean sheet.

Yesterday's performance against Burnley was the other side of the Keogh coin and Martin O'Neill will surely be keeping a very keen eye on the 29 year old between now and the summer.

Marc Wilson

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Just one Premier League start all season, Wilson is the utility man for both Stoke and Ireland that is always useful but rarely relied upon. He'll likely be third in line for a left back slot behind Ward and Brady and vying with Clark to be first deputy when it comes to a spot in central defence.

The fact that he's so rarely used by Mark Hughes is bad news for Ireland and that sluggishness was summed up this weekend when he was given the Jamie Vardy treatment to such an extent that he may as well have still been sitting on the bench. He's certainly not the only man to be left behind by the Premier League's top scorer but Wilson's flat-footedness when presented with Vardy running in behind was very worrying. It had the look of a man who'd hardly played all season and if it comes down to that in France, Ireland may well have to sit back and pray.

Robbie Brady

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Desire, athleticism and tenacity do not a left back make. With Stephen Ward fighting back into the Burnley side to become a key player over the past couple of months, it may not come to it but if O'Neill persists with Brady at left back then he could do a lot worse than taking a look at Liverpool's 5-4 win at Carrow Road this weekend.

Going forward he was a threat. On set-pieces he was even more of a threat but when it came to the conceivably simple act of staying in line with his fellow defenders he was all over the place. He certainly wasn't the only Norwich defender to struggle but there were a couple of times in the first half in particular when his lack of defensive awareness once again became glaringly clear.

It's quite likely that against Belgium and Italy, Brady will be played in a roaming left wing position with an instruction to double up in defence whenever required. All well and good. However, if we do rely on Brady to slot in to a back four, Martin O'Neill may have his work cut out for him.

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The Rest

The most high profile mistake from an Irish defender befell Seamus Coleman this weekend. However, when you consider that he's coming back from injury and his mistake involved missing a sitter in the last minute, it would be nonsensical to include that among defensive frailties for Euro 2016. Coleman may not be at his best in a stop-start Everton season but he's the least of our worries.

With Keogh and Wilson struggling, the fate of Ireland's other two central defensive options come to the fore and, as we all know things aren't exactly going great for Clark or O'Shea in the Premier League this season. Regardless of Sunderland's form, O'Shea will always be one of the first names on O'Neill's teamsheet and that makes complete sense when he's the only Irish centre back starting in the Premier League (Damien Delaney aside). Clark however, should really be worrying for his place in the Euro 2016 squad.

Failing to break into the worst team in the league is not the ideal build up to a major international tournament. O'Neill has never been one to place an undue amount of trust in the Villa man and it would seem that a lack of alternatives is the best thing that Clark has going for him when it comes to Ireland. Alex Pearce didn't play for Derby all year before heading for Bristol City on loan while the entirely untested Shane Duffy may be Ireland's best hope of someone to shake up the central defensive positions at this moment in time.

The Blackburn man has been in solid form this season and you'd have to think that he'll be given a chance to stake a claim for himself when it comes to the March friendlies. There may not be many options for Martin O'Neill to test but it's at least worth letting the likes of Clark, Wilson and Keogh know that a guaranteed spot on the place is far from a certainty.

See also: Richard Keogh Had A Bit Of A Nightmare Against Burnley

See also: The Stupidly Early Ireland Squad Prediction For Euro 2016

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