Football

7 Irish Players Who Should Be Given A Proper Chance In 2018

7 Irish Players Who Should Be Given A Proper Chance In 2018

The Danish pasting means that 2018 is somewhat of a gaping void of disinterest for the Republic of Ireland, with no traditional qualifiers until 2019. The first half of the year is a couple of friendly matches to help other nations prepare for the World Cup (going back to the Stade de France the final indignity) while the second half of the year will be taken up with the new UEFA Nations League.

Given the paucity of proper, high-wire competitive games, this year is likely to be one of experimentation for Martin O'Neill. Ireland exited the playoffs an addled, befuddled mess with no coherent system of playing. Defining a way of playing with the ball is critical for Ireland, and so will be the blooding of a couple of youngsters to offset the likely loss of a myriad of experience. Here are a few players we think should be given a shot at a green jersey over 2018.

Kieran O'Hara

Ireland's first-choice goalkeeper at under-21 level, the Man United youngster has had a taste of the atmosphere surrounding senior European football, having been included in a couple of Jose Mourinho's Europa League squads last season. While Ireland are well-stocked with 'keepers, anything O'Neill can do to accentuate the pathways between underage and senior set-ups in Ireland are to be encouraged.

Matt Doherty

Left-back is actually one of Ireland's stronger positions: Stephen Ward has been among the best and most consistent performers under Martin O'Neill, while Robbie Brady has also been trusted in that position. This has been deeply unfortunate for Matt Doherty. The Wolves defender has been consistently good for the best team in the Championship, and in spite of involvement with O'Neill's squads in the past, but has yet to actually be capped. 2018 should rectify that.

Declan Rice and John Egan

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The emergence of the Duffy/Clark defensive axis was among the positives from the last World Cup campaign, following Martin O'Neill's chopping and changing during Euro 2016. That said, O'Neill requires depth in that position ahead of the probable retirement of John O'Shea. While yet to nail down a starting place with West Ham, the arrival of David Moyes has not hindered first-team opportunities for Declan Rice, the most notable performance an admirable - if not flawless - appearance away to Man City. Rice was part of the Fota training camp last summer, and he should get an opportunity to start one of the upcoming friendly matches. Granted, Rice is an important part of the under-21 squad, but his inclusion would have the fillip of charting clear pathways between underage squads and the senior team: necessary if the FAI's Emerging Talent programme is to have success.

Egan, meanwhile, has a senior cap to his name, starting a friendly game against Iceland. He remains an integral member of the Brentford team, and 2018 should offer Egan a few more opportunities to stake a claim as the first alternative to Clark and Duffy.

Alan Browne

Of the large Irish contingent at Preston, few have been as consistent as Alan Browne. He has featured in all of Preston's league games this season under Alex Neil. He was similarly favoured by former manager Simon Grayson, and has made more than 100 appearances for the Deepdale club. He starts games more frequently under Neil than he did under Grayson, which will help him nail down a specific role in midfield.

Browne made his debut off the bench against Mexico last year, and should be given further opportunities to show what he can do.

Alan Judge 

Judge is the oldest man on this list, but has hardly played since making his international debut against Switzerland in March 2016. Weeks after, he suffered a hideous leg break from which he is only now returning. Judge maintains that this painful interruption of his career will see him play for longer than he anticipated. As he told Balls recently: "I just don’t want to be a one-cap player. I don’t want to be one of those players who only played once", and chances are he won't.

Liam Kelly 

Kelly is only 21, but became an integral part of Reading's push for promotion last season, nervelessly converting a penalty in the playoff shootout defeat to Huddersfield at Wembley. That was a disappointing end to a breakthrough year in which Jaap Stam likened him Andres Iniesta and he earned a call-up to the provisional squad for the internationals against Wales and Iceland. He was linked with a move to Premier League Swansea during the summer, but (wisely) elected to stay put. He is a scheming, skilfull attacker, and ahead of Wes' incipient retirement, we need as many of those as we can get.

See Also: The FAI's New Year's Resolutions For 2018

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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