Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny names a squad on Thursday, most likely undercooked and probably underrated, ahead of this month’s European Championship qualifiers against Greece and Gibraltar.
With Irish captain Séamus Coleman recovering from knee surgery, and injury doubts surrounding Chiedozie Ogbene and Alan Browne, the cover for Matt Doherty at right wing back appears to be Danny McNamara.
The Millwall defender was included in last week’s Bristol training camp, which was designed to keep the EFL Championship players conditioned ahead of the crucial June 16th match at the Agia Sophia stadium in Athens.
Gibraltar come to Dublin three days later, having already lost by three goals to nil against Greece and the Netherlands in their opening Group B matches.
Doherty is set to switch from the left flank, where he started the 1-0 defeat to France in March, when Ireland arrive in Greece despite the 31-year-old featuring only twice off the bench since signing for Atlético Madrid last January.
Further injuries could leave Kenny’s defence exposed. It will be interesting to see whether Callum O’Dowda and Dara O’Shea come through a nine-day training camp in Antalya, Turkey, from June 5th as both players have struggled for fitness of late. Andrew Omobamidele is already unavailable while Nathan Collins and Shane Duffy have struggled for game time in the Premier League.
Duffy, who was excluded from the previous two Irish squads, is reportedly joining Omobamidele at Norwich City after a failed move to Fulham, where he only played 17 minutes in the league this season. The alternative is Hull City centre half Sean McLoughlin.
Ryan Manning deserves a recall to the senior squad, based on an outstanding campaign for Swansea City that yielded five goals and 10 assists coming off the left, but O’Dowda remains Kenny’s first choice ahead of McClean, who featured in all 46 league games for Wigan Athletic.
John Egan was instrumental in Sheffield United’s return to the top-flight, the Blades finished second behind Josh Cullen’s dominant Burnley side, but O’Shea’s fitness and Collins’ inactivity must be of serious concerns to the Irish management. Granted, Collins did start for Wolves in the last two matches against Everton and Arsenal.
Midfield is less problematic. Kenny name-checked Jack Taylor recently, mainly because the 24-year-old arrived into the Bristol camp four days after Peterborough United failed to gain promotion from League One. But Cullen, Jayson Molumby, Will Smallbone and Jason Knight are reliable options in a 3-5-2 system or the 5-4-1 employed against France when Ogbene proved so effective.
Celtic winger Mikey Johnston is primed to make his first international start this month after two impressive cameos off the bench against Latvia and France. Johnston ended a loan spell in the Vitória Guimarães team, helping the Portuguese club qualify for next season’s Europa Conference League.
Greece, managed by Gus Poyet, won their Nations League C group last year, beating Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Cyprus, so Evan Ferguson will need help to unlock a 4-3-3 system marshalled by VfB Stuttgart’s Konstantinos Mavropanos and Liverpool left back Kostas Tsimikas.
Everton centre forward Tom Cannon comes into consideration due to scoring eight goals on loan to Preston North End, the same club for which Troy Parrott struggled to make a lasting impact on his latest excursion away from Tottenham Hotspur.
In March, Parrott was excluded from the match-day squad against France when Adam Idah and Michael Obafemi were introduced as Ireland chased a late equaliser.
On the surface, Irish goalkeeping stocks have never appeared so strong but scratch the surface to find Gavin Bazunu coming into camp cold, having not featured for Southampton since the 3-3 draw with Arsenal on April 21st. Not that the 21-year-old’s place is under threat from Caoimhín Kelleher, who conceded four goals in his solitary league appearance for Liverpool last weekend, nor Mark Travers as the 24-year-old fell out of favour at Bournemouth way back in January.
Ireland squad (possible)
Goalkeepers: Gavin Bazunu (Southampton), Caoimhín Kelleher (Liverpool), Mark Travers (Bournemouth).
Defenders: Matt Doherty (Atlético Madrid), Danny McNamara (Millwall), Callum O’Dowda (Cardiff City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Nathan Collins (Wolverhampton Wanderers), John Egan (Sheffield United), Dara O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Seán McLoughlin (Hull City)/Shane Duffy (Fulham).
Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Burnley), Jayson Molumby (West Bromwich Albion), Jeff Hendrick (Reading), Jason Knight (Derby County), Will Smallbone (Southampton), Jamie McGrath (Dundee United), Mark Sykes (Bristol City), Jack Taylor (Peterborough United).
Forwards: Evan Ferguson (Brighton and Hove Albion), Tom Cannon (Everton), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), Michael Obafemi (Burnley), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Mikey Johnston (Vitoria de Guimaraes).