Ahead of four Nations League fixtures in the space of 11 June days, Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny has named a 27-man squad which includes uncapped pair CJ Hamilton of Blackpool and Derby County’s Festy Ebosele, while there is a recall for Swansea striker Michael Obafemi.
London-born Hamilton spent part of his youth living in Waterford and qualifies to play for the Republic through his mother. The 27-year-old winger had a productive season for Championship side Blackpool, making 27 league and cup appearances in all.
“I know he lived for 14 years in Waterford, but he was someone I had very little information on,” said Kenny. “He’s a very, very quick left winger, he has a lot of pace, he plays on the right as well. He has a very good attitude. He’s had to contend with injuries but he made a good impact for Blackpool in the second half of the season.”
Ebosele, meanwhile, made enough of an impression at Derby to attract the interest of Italian Serie A side Udinese who he will join this summer, despite Derby manager Wayne Rooney’s best efforts to persuade him to stay with the club. The 19-year-old, who was born in Enniscorthy and joined Derby from Bray Wanderers in 2018, represented Ireland at all underage levels.
“I see him as a right winger,” said Kenny, “but he’s someone who can play at right wing back as well and that was a factor in his selection because we’re missing Matt Doherty and Séamus Coleman missed Everton’s game last Sunday with a groin issue, so we just had to make sure we’re covered in that area.
“I don’t really see Festy as a defender, but wing back isn’t necessarily a defensive position, depending on who you’re playing. He’s still learning, but his speed really frightens defenders.”
It’s three and a half years since Martin O’Neill gave Obafemi his senior Irish debut as an 18-year-old, but a combination of injuries, limited opportunities at Southampton and a slow start to his spell with Swansea City, after moving to the Championship club last summer, has made the wait for a second cap a lengthy one.
He found his feet, though, in the second half of the campaign, scoring 12 goals in his last 16 league appearances, form that was enough to convince Kenny that the Dubliner had earned a recall.
“It’s the first time in his career that Michael has had a run of consecutive games,” said Kenny. “It’s very hard for young players in the Premier League to get that because the standard is so high and the squads are so big. So the move to Swansea gave him a great platform to do really well in the Championship.
“And you can see the improvement in his play. I’ve seen aspects of his play that I hadn’t seen previously, his holding play has come on really well and he’s showing great football intelligence. The performances I’ve seen from him recently at Swansea are the best I’ve ever seen from him - he doesn’t take penalties and he’s scored 12 goals in 16 games, so he’s done really well.”
Kenny insisted that his relationship with Obafemi was “grand”, the player having expressed his frustration in the past over his omission from the squad. “If everyone was the same, life would be dull. Michael’s a very charismatic guy and I know he’s proud to play for Ireland, he’s excited about coming in.”
Injury has ruled out a number of players, including Doherty, Adam Idah, Andrew Omobamidele and Aaron Connolly, while there is no place in the squad for veterans Shane Long, Darren Randolph and Robbie Brady. Callum O’Dowda has also been left out, but Cyrus Christie returns, the right back now looking for a new club after being released by Fulham having spent the second half of the season on loan with Swansea.
Ireland play the first four of their six Nations League group fixtures in June before completing their campaign in September. They open with a trip to Yerevan where they will play Armenia on Saturday week, before returning to Dublin where they will meet Ukraine (June 8th) and Scotland (June 11th). They finish up with the return fixture against Ukraine in Lodz, Poland (June 14th), the war in Ukraine necessitating a neutral venue.
Republic of Ireland Squad
Goalkeepers: Caoimhín Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Manchester City), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth).
Defenders: Séamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Nathan Collins (Burnley), Dara O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers).
Midfielders: Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Jayson Molumby (West Bromwich Albion), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Jason Knight (Derby County).
Forwards: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), Scott Hogan (Birmingham City), Will Keane (Wigan Athletic), Michael Obafemi (Swansea City), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United), CJ Hamilton (Blackpool), Festy Ebosele (Derby County).
Nations League Fixtures
June June: Armenia v Ireland, Republican Stadium, Yerevan. 2pm (5pm local time)
June 8th: Republic of Ireland v Ukraine, Aviva Stadium - 7.45pm
June 11th: Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium - 5pm
June 14th: Ukraine v Republic of Ireland, ŁKS Stadium, Łódź - 7.45pm (8.45pm local time)