What if? Irish Eyes Look To WC2010….

by Eamonn Power

Its seems a lifetime since the Irish national team’s chances of qualification were so cruelly snatched away and I still haven’t recovered from the indescribable disappointment of it all. I’ve decided to take a step back from the harsh reality of the truth for a while and assess how our boys in green would be fixed if that moment never happened and Gio’s men somehow managed to squeeze their way through…..whether this will help ease the pain or not, I’m really not sure. Although somehow I doubt it.

Robbie Keane of Ireland celebrates scoring the opening goal during the France v Republic of Ireland FIFA 2010 World Cup Qualifying Play Off second leg match at the Stade de France on November 18, 2009 in Paris, France.

The World Cup kicks off in less than four months time on June 11th. The four month mark is the start of a worrying time for national managers and fans around the world lucky enough to be involved. Will their star centre-mid recover his form? What if their hit man striker goes over on his ankle, or worse, his dodgy knee comes back to haunt him?  Four months is a short enough period to really start considering these questions as major worries and perhaps to start developing contingency plans should the answers suddenly turn negative.

”Luckily” for me as an Irish fan, my next few months will be worry free…….. but I wish so much they weren’t. In a pathetic act of refusing to believe the truth, here’s how the boys in green would be fixed for the big kick-off………

Team to start French Game:

Shay Given

It seems that Given has been in the form of his life for the whole of his career such is his consistency between the posts. His move to Manchester City has seen the profile of his appearances come under increased scrutiny, but this has not seemed to affect him any more than it ever did. Despite the exorbitant sums City shelled out for other players, Given, along with Craig Bellamy, have proved two of the least flashy but also two of the most important. The Donegal man has gained City more points this season than any twenty or thirty million pound striker in their ranks. Importantly, Given never fails to bring his club form with him on International duty and Ireland would be going to South Africa safe in the knowledge that one of the best players of his position in the world is minding the nets for them.

John O’ Shea

The ever dependable O’Shea picked up a thigh injury in the second play-off game and has not been seen since. Latest reports schedule his comeback for May, which would be worrying from an Irish perspective seeing as this gives him little time to regain full match fitness before the tournament starts. O’Shea’s absence was sorely felt during certain stages of the season when the United injury list read as long as your arm. His ability to cover in almost every position along the back four would have come in very useful. Like Given, he always seems to perform in his country’s colours and few would doubt him to continue this in South Africa, should he be fit.

Richard Dunne

A constant hero for the boys in green. Dunne’s forced move away from Manchester City was as big a mistake in the transfer market as they come and choosing to pay upwards of twenty million pounds to replace him with an inferior model was a disgraceful move for Mark Hughes to make. At certain times this season the City faithful would surely admit to having watched enviously as Dunne commanded the Aston Villa back line as excels in doing and they were forced to watch Lescott and Toure struggle to get to grips with basic tasks, such as winning headers. The move has reinvigorated Dunne and the big Dubliner would be heading to the World Cup following a hugely successful debut season for the Villains.

Sean St. Ledger

St. Ledger’s performances for Ireland came as a huge surprise to many. The 25 year old was scarcely heard of before his selection to the national squad for the qualifier against Bulgaria in June but the Preston North End man stepped in with a level of assurance that suggested he was an old hand. His partnership with Dunne seemed very solid throughout all the games that followed and St. Ledger famously popped up for the goal that should have snatched victory against the Italians in October. At this stage he was on loan to Middlesbrough and many predicted a move to the Premier League was beckoning in January, however the supposedly interested clubs were put off by the high price tag on his head and he is back playing his football in the mid-table of the Championship with Preston.

Kevin Kilbane

Hasn’t enjoyed much game time this season for Hull, getting the full 90 minutes on only four occasions in the league this season. Ireland’s shortage of any quality cover in this position, matched with Kilbane’s record of performances for the Irish would almost certainly see him hold onto his spot but there’s no doubt that Kev would be rusty to say the least when he finally managed to get those legs pumping again.

Liam Lawrence

Lawrence has experienced a relatively disappointing season at club level this season and has failed to nail down a starting position at the Brittania. He has managed to pick up a bit of game time all the same and is not completely out of favour with Tony Pulis. Whether this would serve to add or detract to his fitness levels come June is hard to tell, but it’s quite possible that depending on the opposition, Lawrence’s place in the Irish XI may be dubious anyway, with Aiden McGeady a very likely option on the right of midfield.

Glenn Whelan

Very similar to his club mate Lawrence in that he’s also failed to nail down a starting berth, despite starting the season relatively well. Whelan has managed just three league starts since November 8thwhich would certainly count as a worry for the Irish management.

Keith Andrews

De ja vu. Like Whelan, Andrews has seen his starting position for Blackburn at the start of the season downgraded to a bit part role, getting a full 90 minute run out on just three occasions in the last seventeen games. The fact that Whelan and Andrews would most likely be responsible for snuffing out any threat in the opposition midfield would be a certain cause of concern given their severe lack of consistent game time prior to the tournament.

Damien Duff

Duff’s move to Fulham from crisis hit Newcastle in the summer has revitalised the Dubliner, who has shown flashbacks of the form that made him hot property in the Premier League all those many years ago. It’s a pity that Duff chose to follow the money rather than his ambition upon leaving Chelsea because he really is a fine player, who could’ve added a lot to a trophy chasing team, such as Liverpool who were in dire need of a left midfielder (some might say they still are) at the time. More good news for the Irish comes in the fact that he’s also seemed to shake off all the niggling injuries that blighted his career at times. A permanent fixture for the cottagers this season, Duff has provided his fair share of goals and assists and would head to South Africa with confidence high.

Robbie Keane

Keane’s recent move to Celtic is likely to have been greeted with pleasure from the Irish management seeing that their record goal scorer would be likely to get consistent game time rather than more often than not warming the bench for Spurs. What can’t be denied however, is that Keane’s form is not where it used to be. If it was he’d still be with the Londoners. Hopefully he’ll rediscover the goal scoring touch up north.

Kevin Doyle

Often asked to plough a lone furrow up front for struggling Wolves this season and the Wexford man has offered what he always has and always will, hard work and decent finishing when the chance arises. Doyle has bagged six Premier League goals and has impressed in most games. His performances for Ireland have rarely disappointed and he would be heading to the World Cup in good shape to add to his international tally.


Substitutes:

Joe Murphy

Number one for a Scunthorpe side currently struggling in the Championship. Prior to promotion, Murphy was named in the League One team of the season meaning he must not be all bad. Very few could deny that they’d be 100% confident in his abilities should anything happen Shay Given however….. God forbid.

Stephen Kelly

Very much second choice right back for Fulham after his summer switch.  Kelly has managed just 6 appearances all season for the cottagers.

Paul McShane

John O’Shea’s most likely replacement should the big Waterford man not recover in time. Has been given quite a lot of game time by the Tigers and has not been quite as disastrous as he can be. His presence in the Irish team always seems to provide more worries than assurances however and all of Ireland would be desperately willing John O’Sheas thigh to improvement.

Stephen Hunt

One of Ireland’s best performers in the Premier League this season. If not for the form of Damien Duff, Hunt would be almost a shoe in for the spot on the left of the Irish midfield. Hunt has six Premier League goals to his name this season along with five assists, form that has seen him the subject of a series of transfer attempts from Wolves in the January window.

Aiden McGeady

Still at Celtic. Still doing what he always does. Rumours of a big money move to England, and most likely Birmingham, never materialized, but nonetheless the Scottish born Irishman would be a fine option for Trappa to have. Quite likely to regain a starting berth depending on the quality of the opposition, the worse they are, the more likely he is to play.

Darren Gibson

Handed more starts this season than any other time in his fledgling Manchester United career. Gibson has impressed in some games and seemed invisible in others. One thing he has demonstrated is his quality in shooting from distance. Due to the inactivity of his central midfield counterparts, Gibson would stand a good shout of receiving a starting spot.

Leon Best

Top scorer for mid-table Championship side Coventry this season with 9 goals. Has looked lively in his past appearances for Ireland. Still very much third choice behind Doyle and Keane however, possibly fourth given Shane Long’s current form.

Others:

Shane Long

In hot form for Reading of late, most notably scoring the winner for the Royals in their FA Cup replay against Liverpool.

James McCarthy

Only recently showing the form that saw him such a hot property. McCarthy has been performing well for Wigan since his move from Hamilton Academic. Would be a very likely call up come summer.

Eddie Nolan

A regular for Preston this season. Likely to be in squad, but very unlikely to feature.

Martin Rowlands

Injured his cruciates in Irelands final group game against Montenegro and was subsequently ruled out for the season.

Anthony Stokes

14 goals in 22 appearances for Hibs this season means the Dubliner is in solid form and would be a strong option for a place in the match day squad and possibly a few appearances as a sub.

Clinton Morrison

8 goals in 25 appearances for Coventry this season suggests that he’s still ticking over. Clint would need a minor miracle to feature however, having never been in Traps plans .

Seamus Coleman

Outsider for the squad. The 21 year old has impressed in his (very) few appearances for the Toffees this season since making his debut against Benfica in a 5-0 drubbing. Coleman was named man of the match in his home Premier League debut against Spurs. More than likely reliant on injuries to get the call.

Andy Reid, Steven Ireland

Probably stretching the imagination a little too much for this one…….

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