Martin O’Neill’s EURO 2016 squad highlights Ireland’s lack of depth

We now know the 23 players that will represent the Republic of Ireland after Martin O’Neill confirmed the final squad late last night in Cork.

The announcement came on the back of a lacklustre showing in the 2-1 defeat to Belarus at Turners’ Cross in the final warm up game before the tournament kicks off in France next week.

While there were no major surprises in O’Neill’s selections, there are certainly plenty of talking points and concerns over the lack of depth once you look outside the expected starting eleven.

One statistic that stands out from the squad is that there is only one player aged 23 or under, the joint lowest number (with Russia) for any of the 24 participating nations.

 

Goalkeepers

The big question over the past week was whether or not Keiren Westwood had done enough to force his way into the squad at the expense of David Forde.

With Darren Randolph seemingly nailed on as first choice and Shay Given, rightly or wrongly, bringing a wealth of experience to the set up, it was a straight shootout between Westwood and Forde for the final place.

O’Neill did throw a bit of a curve ball by bringing Forde off the bench to replace Given against Belarus but, like many other aspects of the night, it ultimately meant nothing.

Westwood was in stunning form for Sheffield Wednesday in their 1-0 weekend defeat to Hull City in the Championship Play Off Final at Wembley, while Forde made just eight league appearances for Millwall last season.

He kept us in the game in Germany and we got that great point which was hugely significant in our qualification. He’s been great around the place as well and that decision was very difficult because he’s been excellent.

 

It’s just his lack of game time recently at Millwall obviously hasn’t helped but that was disappointing.

Martin O’Neill on David Forde

Plenty have pointed out that Forde started the qualifying campaign as first choice but a lot can change in just under two years and the 36-year-old has ultimately paid the price for an ailing club career.

 

Defenders

An injury to Stoke City’s Marc Wilson meant that there was very little to debate when it came to which defenders would make the squad, with Seamus Coleman the only slight concern as he continues to recover from a hamstring problem.

If anything goes wrong with the Everton man’s preparations then Cyrus Christie is the replacement at right back but he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory last night, especially for the second Belarus goal.

Christie comes into his own when going forward but, given that Ireland are likely to have less possession than at least two of their three Group E opponents, it’s his suspected defending that needs scrutiny.

On the opposite side, the same could be said about Robbie Brady if he gets the nod at left back ahead of Stephen Ward.

O’Neill has gone with four centre halves and wouldn’t be too many qualms if any of Richard Keogh, Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy got the nod to partner John O’Shea.

 

Midfielders

Ireland’s limitations are probably best highlighted by a midfield group that has plenty of players with good attributes but no stand out individual that you would expect to dominate a contest on the big stage.

James McCarthy has potential to be that game changer in the centre of the park but he is yet to truly deliver at international level and is another player working through an injury.

The much maligned Glenn Whelan remains one of the first names on the team sheet and has served his country well since winning the first of his 71 caps to date back in 2008, while Derby County’s Jeff Hendrick was one of the big plus points from the qualifying campaign but he is also struggling for match fitness and, consequently, is no guarantee to start.

The creative responsibilities rest firmly on the shoulders of Wes Hoolahan who could end up being deemed as a luxury player and surplus to requirements against Italy and Belgium.

O’Neill’s faith in Aiden McGeady is admirable but worrying, despite the fact that the winger has served Ireland well at times, including that memorable brace away to Georgia in September 2014.

The 30-year-old did the right thing and sought first tam football by leaving Everton on loan in January but he failed to impress at Sheffield Wednesday and was allowed to join the Ireland set up early having missed out on the squad for Saturday’s Play Off Final.

A decision on whether to take Stephen Quinn or David Meyler was made very easy thanks to Harry Arter’s thigh injury and neither are likely to see much playing time in France, unless Meyler is used as an option to shut up shop late in the game.

Harry’s picked up an injury. He’s feeling he’ll be fit in about ten days so it’s another decision then.

 

Because we have some injured players and you don’t want to be going in with too many injured.

– Martin O’Neill on Harry Artur

There is little to be said about Jonathan Walters who is certain to start either out wide or up front, while James McClean  staked his claim for a spot in the first eleven by turning in a good performance against Belarus.

 

Forwards

The big question on everyone’s lips should be “what the hell do we do if anything happens to Shane Long?”.

The 29-year-old Southampton man has been a revelation at club level since the turn of the year and added to his international goals tally with a close range finish against the Netherlands on Friday night.

Beyond Long, it’s very slim pickings and Daryl Murphy continues to search for his first Ireland goal after a lacklustre 66 minute showing against Belarus.

To be fair to Murphy, he is still on the comeback trail from injury and hasn’t played a club game for Ipswich Town since mid-March, but that in itself could be seen as grounds for non-inclusion.

When you throw in the fact that Robbie Keane is now struggling with a calf problem, the decision to go with four strikers (if you include Jonathan Walters who is listed as a midfielder on the official squad list) is a bit of a head scratcher.

Robbie is quick healer, he is the captain of the side and he believes that he will be fit, if not for the first game for the matches after that.

– Martin O’Neill on Robbie Keane

The other contenders for a seat on the plane were David McGoldrick who scored four goals in 23 Championship appearances for Ipswich and Colorado Rapids man Kevin Doyle who was told to stay in the United States so that he play in Major League Soccer over the weekend.

Unfortunately Ireland aren’t exactly blessed with a group of prolific goalscorers and will likely play with just one out-and-out striker at the Euros so maybe O’Neill has the balance just right.

What do you think of the Ireland squad for Euro 2016? Let us know in the comments section below.

Author Details

Neil Sherwin

Co-editor of BackPageFootball.com. Writes mostly on Premier League and A-League with contributions to other sites including TheFootballSack, InBedWithMaradona and Bloomberg's BSports. Has featured on The Guardian's Football Weekly.

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