As Stephen Kenny gets set to name his squad ahead of the upcoming trio of World Cup qualifiers, there seems to be a newfound confidence and sense of vigour amongst many of his options.
While the Boys in Green may not have the same set of options that they once had plying their trade in the Premier League, a young crop may be there or thereabouts at that level soon enough.
Irish eyes are smiling in not only the Championship, but also in League One. Troy Parrott is excelling during his first few months at MK Dons, while Gavin Bazunu is impressing at promotion-chasing Portsmouth.
Luke McNally is also starting to show his quality in the Irish Sea with Oxford United having made his first competitive start for the club last week.
McNally has been joined in League One by James McClean who re-joined Wigan Athletic on Tuesday, adding to the Irish playing their trade in the third tier.
— Wigan Athletic (@LaticsOfficial) August 17, 2021
And that list might grow, with Portsmouth boss Danny Cowley claiming he sees no reason why Marcus Harness should not be called up ahead of the international break (via Hampshire Live)
Someone like Marcus, he has to be in the Irish squad for me.
I look at what he gives us on a consistent basis in terms of scoring goals, in terms of creating goals. The quality he has, which we see on the training pitch day in, day out.
I really believe he will be the next one that makes that breakthrough.
— Portsmouth FC (@Pompey) May 24, 2021
And while that might be all well and good, the question stays the same, are Irish players playing at a high enough standard where they can to remain competitive at international level?
The defeat to Luxembourg was scarring to say the least, and it feels imperative that Stephen Kenny's side dust themselves off from that agony if they are to make anything of this World Cup qualifying campaign.
Despite the obvious issues, this sense of purpose among Kenny's options is encouraging. Where as goals became a rarity during a disastrous first year in charge for the Ireland boss, there have been some signs that this appears to be changing.
Callum Robinson & Dara O'Shea Starring at West Brom
Promotion favourites West Brom have impressed early doors in the Championship, with their two Irish stars amongst the star performers.
Callum Robinson and Dara O'Shea have been on fire, with both scoring on Wednesday night in a dominant 4-0 hammering of Sheffield United.
Robinson played 28 times for West Brom last season, scoring five. Four of those goals, however, came in two games against Chelsea.
Callum Robinson finally has his goal! Against his old club 🎯 pic.twitter.com/Xhab4ZFMnE
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) August 18, 2021
So, by no means was he prolific. But, in just three games this season, he has already scored three goals in the Championship.
His teammate, Dara O'Shea is just as similar, impressing under his new manager in Valerien Ismael.
Already, the former St Kevin's Boys youngster has scored in two games, with one coming last night against Sheffield United.
Another set-piece, another Sheffield United calamity!
Dara O'Shea with his second goal of the season 🎯👇 pic.twitter.com/iG6o7Pe3D1
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) August 18, 2021
Granted, he was a regular fixture in the Baggies' first-team last year, but even more game time will be invaluable to him.
That should come in handy during this international break, with the 22-year old having already been amongst the most impressive players up to this point in Stephen Kenny's tenure.
Ireland's Portsmouth Contingent Impressing
Not so long ago, Portsmouth were an established Premier League club. That has not been the case for quite some time, although they have been knocking on the door at the top end of League One for a few years now.
It looks as if the Fratton Park outfit have a genuine chance of promotion back to the Championship this season. Much of that hope is built on a supremely talented young goalkeeper in Gavin Bazunu, and a lively winger in Marcus Harness.
Harness may not be a household name in Irish footballing circles, but it is clear that he possesses the quality to to just that.
As mentioned already, his Pompey boss would like to see him at least called up by Kenny. A quick look at his recent form would suggest he certainly has a case.
— Portsmouth FC (@Pompey) March 27, 2021
He has played in all of club's three league games so far this season, scoring once.
Yes, the Coventry born winger may be 25-years old, and he may not be considered a 'green shoot' of sorts, but he certainly looks like he can add to an Irish attack that is often shorn of goals.
As for Bazunu, it is quite clear that he has many of the attributes needed to make it far in the professional game.
He made his Irish senior debut on that horrifying night at home to Luxembourg. Despite this, he has impressed at international level.
It seems as if it will be a right battle for Bazunu and Caoimhín Kelleher down the line for the green shirt, but the former Shamrock Rovers man looks to have the upper hand at the moment.
— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) July 9, 2018
Kelleher, unlike, Bazunu, is not getting first-team minutes for Liverpool. The fact that Darren Randolph seems to be frozen out at West Ham is also going in Bazunu's favour.
Going by recent form the 19-year old looks to have the edge even on Randolph, even if Kenny may have concerns about throwing him into the deep end of Portugal away on September 1st.
— pompeycarlo (@carlofooty) August 17, 2021
Considering all of the variables at play, a decision to opt for Bazunu may not be the worst after all.
Is Gavin Kilkenny the answer as James McCarthy continues his return to form?
With Jason Knight set to miss out on these upcoming World Cup qualifiers, Bournemouth's Gavin Kilkenny is doing his very best to break open the door to force his way into Kenny's plans.
Kilkenny, like Dara O'Shea, came through the St Kevin's Boys schoolboy academy. He has taken to life in the Championship like duck to water after being given an opportunity by Scott Parker this season.
The 21-year-old Dubliner has played in all three of the Cherries' league games up to this point in the campaign, putting in solid performances in a somewhat unfamiliar central midfield role.
Gavin Kilkenny vs Birmingham:
90 minutes played
89% passing accuracy percentage
51 passes complete
4/7 long balls complete
Senior call up next week 👀🇮🇪 pic.twitter.com/9LiVTOiPvT
— IP🇮🇪 (@IrishPropaganda) August 18, 2021
Having previously played on the wing, the new role seems to suit his game perfectly.
Is he the answer to replace the injured Jason Knight for the upcoming international break? That remains to be seen. Kilkenny has already been likened to Wes Hoolahan, but, he has yet to earn an Irish senior call-up.
It seems unlikely that Kenny would fling him into the deep-end straight away, but stranger things have happened.
One welcome sight to Irish supporters is that James McCarthy is continuing his return to form after several injury-hit seasons.
🗣️ "I've always wanted to play for Celtic. The reception I got is one you dream of as a kid. I'm delighted to be part of it."
James McCarthy on making his Hoops debut! 🤩#COYBIG 🍀 pic.twitter.com/4VJRMdKPr1
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) August 15, 2021
McCarthy's move to Glasgow felt like a last-chance saloon at the time, but he is looking more like the old James McCarthy with each passing game.
With McCarthy's return in mind, perhaps Kilkenny may not get the chance afforded to Knight. However, there is no reason why the Bournemouth youngster should not be included in this squad at least.
What can Stephen Kenny take from this early season form for the Irish?
Overall, it has been a very positive start to the season for many Irish players across the Irish Sea.
Troy Parrott is scoring, as is Callum Robinson. Gavin Kilkenny and Dara O'Shea are also coming to the fore.
Marcus Harness is also making waves for himself alongside Gavin Bazunu, just like Luke McNally at Oxford United.
McNally might not earn himself a call-up, but he is impressing nonetheless.
Blackburn's Darragh Lenihan should also be in contention given his strong start to the season, typified by his late winner on Wednesday night for Rovers against Nottingham Forest.
Darragh Lenihan with the late winner for Blackburn last night!pic.twitter.com/Uhg7D7tvtE
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) August 19, 2021
As Ireland's options shine in the Championship and League One, it begs the question; are the Boys in Green good enough to suggest they can they compete on the international stage?
The level they are playing at is certainly an issue. There is an argument to suggest the step up is too large, but we have seen players from other countries do it in recent times. It can only be a good thing to have players in form, even if not quite at the level you would have hoped for.
Should they get their chance on the international stage with that form and momentum behind them, this could prove to herald a bright new era of Irish football. Hopefully that can be the case.