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The Next Generation That Can Fill In Where Ireland Were Lacking At Euro 2016

The Next Generation That Can Fill In Where Ireland Were Lacking At Euro 2016
By Gary Reilly Updated

To yet again borrow that oft used quote, it was a good Euro 2016 for Ireland, it wasn't a great Euro 2016. The sun has set on our latest championship campaign and now it's possible to look back with a bit of perspective. The truth is that, in years to come, we'll be asking ourselves 'what if?'

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Granted, we have every reason to be proud of our performances. But what if we replicated our performance in the second half against Sweden? What if we had the strength in depth to be able to replicate our first half performance against France? Maybe we should be happy with our lot but Wales and Iceland have shone a light on what could have been achieved and it's difficult to not be slightly envious. We always want more and that's the way it should be. So what held us back?

It can't have been a whole lot. A touch of quality here, some fresher legs there and, just like that, perhaps it would have been slightly different. But now's the time to look forward, we weren't perfect at Euro 2016 but where can we improve?

As stated before, Ireland will undergo a hell of a transformation between 2016 and 2018. No other nation at the Euros requires such a turnover in personnel. Given, Keane and O'Shea will go and it's only a matter of time before the likes of Walters and Hoolahan follow.

But rather than simply focus on the players that are on the way out and those that will replace them, we've decided to have a look at whether there is scope for Ireland's squad to improve as soon as possible. Despite the imminent retirements and ageing squad, could we head into World Cup qualifying with a better team in place?

It's easy to look to the likes of Kevin Toner and Jack Byrne and say the future will be fine but they're not going to step in and take over from O'Shea and Hoolahan over night, it's going to take quite a bit of time to see that kind of improvement but there are a few areas of the team that could be in line for a more immediate upgrade.

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Left back

Incumbent - Stephen Ward

Future - Greg Cunningham

Stephen Ward does a job and he does it well. This will certainly not be another hammering of the Burnley man. He's dependable, he's solid but there's no point in denying the fact that a lot of Ireland fans would be happier to see someone slightly more comfortable on the ball in the side.

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Robbie Brady is, hopefully, not going to be that man. He's too valuable in the final third to have him worrying about defensive positioning. Instead, there must be some real competition for the left back somewhere out there. How about an honest to god left back, who's Irish, who's 25 and who was player of the year at a mid-table Championship club?

Greg Cunningham already has four Ireland caps but it's due time his Ireland career started in earnest. The former Man City defender joined Preston last summer and went from strength to strength. If he continues that form this time around, it's surely only a matter of time before he's knocking on the door.

Central midfield

Incumbent - Glenn Whelan

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Future - Chris Forrester

If you were used to seeing Chris Forrester tear apart defences the length and breadth of Ireland, last year's comparisons with Michael Carrick may have been a bit puzzling. The Chris Forrester that made his name for Pats was diligent and intelligent on the ball, but to suggest that he was anything like the Man United midfielder would have been very odd indeed.

He may have had those skills in his locker but it was the wonder goals and the ludicrous technique going forward that we were more enamoured with. Since making the move to Peterborough, Forrester has refined and altered his game. It would be wrong to call him defensive but the Carrick comparisons are understandable and his game has benefited from it no end.

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The new captain of Peterborough, Forrester's Ireland debut is surely only a matter of months away. Still only 23, he'll have another season in League One, make the move up the leagues and he'll be dictating the tempo in the Irish midfield for years to come.

Winger

Incumbent - Aiden McGeady

Future - Callum O'Dowda

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I'll still maintain that there's something left in Aiden McGeady. Most will have understandably written him off but that kind of ability can't just disappear. It's there somewhere and, at 30, it would be wrong to just write it off entirely. For Ireland however, we no longer have the space to wait for him to come good. He could have been the man to change things off the bench against Sweden or even Belgium but it just looked like a desperate roll of the dice.

He may be Martin O'Neill's man but, unless there's a dramatic improvement in his club form, you have to think that Euro 2016 was the last we're going to see of Aiden McGeady being sprung from the bench at a vital time. There have to be better, hungrier, options.

A couple of months ago, you probably wouldn't have said such an option would come from Oxford United. And yet here we are. Callum O'Dowda may not be tested at the highest level but the soundings coming out of the Ireland camp in the build up to Euro 2016 would suggest that it really doesn't matter. That impressive cameo against Belarus won't be the last we see of him in an Ireland jersey.

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Forward

Incumbent - Robbie Keane

Future - Scott Hogan

Long live the king. And while we're at it, it must be said that the king still has it.

Having said that though, Euro 2016 is a natural end point for Robbie Keane's quite simply outrageous Ireland career. 145 games, 67 goals and the respect of a nation. But, if we're forcing ourselves to ask the difficult question, could Ireland have been better served by turning to someone else for Euro 2016?

The truth is, Martin O'Neill had very little choice when it came to his forward options. David McGoldrick was a possibility but it would have been very harsh to leave Keane out considering what he could still bring to the squad. If, however, Brentford's Scott Hogan has been further along the path of international declaration for Ireland, perhaps things would have been different.

It still would have been difficult to leave Keane out but Hogan's pace as an option from the bench would have been an option that Ireland simply didn't have. Going forward, if Hogan does firmly decide that the green jersey is for him, the World Cup qualifiers could be a rather more uncomfortable scenario for tiring opposition defenders.


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