How the Ireland squad could look when Stephen Kenny takes charge

How might the Irish squad look in two years time once Mick McCarthy has guided us through a respectable Euro 2020 campaign, and it’s time for Stephen Kenny to lead the charge towards Qatar? Well, we’re not expecting a whole pile of change and being the ultimate pessimists, are not taking Declan Rice into consideration. Let’s go.

GK Caoimhin Kelleher

The Liverpool stopper seems like Ireland’s #1 in waiting on the back of his rise through the ranks at Anfield. He’s already making matchday squads at 19 years of age, and there’s thought that he will be bumped up to #2 once Simon Mignolet leaves the club.

This isn’t ideal from an Irish perspective, as Liverpool have just spent an extraordinary amount of money on a goalkeeper that should last them many seasons to come. But the fact that Kelleher is spending each day with Alisson, who is proving to be worth the outlay spent, should help his progression. A loan deal to a starting role in the Premier League or high in the Championship, or even abroad, would be fantastic for him. Realistically however, Darren Randolph will be 33 in two years time and that’s young for a goalkeeper these days.

RB Matt Doherty

Controversial, perhaps, leaving Seamus Coleman out of this completely hypothetical 2020 side. But without going to a three at the back with wing backs, or shoving Matt Doherty over to the left, we’ve plumped for the Wolves man to usurp Coleman (and Cyrus Christie) at the right back position.

Doherty will be 28 and in the prime of his career. He’s quickly establishing himself as one of the better full backs in the league, and on that basis – and with Coleman hitting his 30s and with a history of injuries – we’re expecting Doherty to finally lay claim to a starter’s role.

CB Shane Duffy

One of the few no brainers. Duffy is still only 26, and barring a relegation with Brighton has firmly established himself as a solid Premier League centre back. The fact that he only has 23 caps at the moment is probably a disservice to him, as the Derry man has proven to be a fine player in the green shirt and should handsomely add to his appearance haul before he calls it a day.

CB Ciaran Clark

Likewise with Clark, the 29-year-old has established himself as a worthy Premier League centre back at Newcastle and that should continue into 2020 should they avoid relegation.

Clark may be susceptible to a rise from John Egan or Kevin Long, or perhaps the younger Jimmy Dunne, but it’s hard to see that happening in the short term.

LB Enda Stevens

The left back position is where things start to get awry. We’ve a bunch of right backs that could probably do a perfectly adequate job there, and a few make shift left backs in Darragh Lenihan or Robbie Brady (whom we prefer higher up the field) who can fill in. Indeed there’s Greg Cunningham there as well, who hasn’t been able to make a struggling Cardiff side and will be 29.

We’re excited by young Lee O’Connor at Manchester United, as well as Tyreke Wilson as Manchester City – the latter is especially highly rated having come through the City academy and could be the answer to our problems in the future. But right now, we’ve settled with a safe option in genuine left back Enda Stevens.

MF Callum O’Dowda

Martin O’Neill was a huge fan of the Bristol City man, who seemed to be favoured early despite his age. He’ll be 25 in two years time and with ten caps to his name, should continue being a part of the starting eleven, and certainly the squad.

We’re thinking Mick McCarthy will be just as much of a fan and will hopefully get the best out of him in the short term, before Kenny takes the reigns during the prime of his career. O’Dowda could come out of this period with his reputation most enhanced.

MF Alan Browne

We like Alan Browne to finally establish himself in the side under Mick McCarthy, and become a firm starter once Kenny pulls up in the car park. He’s still only 23 but has made over 150 appearances for Preston and notched over 20 goals. It seems like only a matter of time.

MF Robbie Brady

Jeff Hendrick is probably the safer bet here, and he’s still only 26, but we’ve gone for the more dynamic player in Robbie Brady. He’s by far our best option from set pieces and Hendrick’s form has teetered off recently, which is something McCarthy will be keen to reverse. In reality, you’d imagine a starting eleven will include both of these names come 2020.

FW Michael Obafemi

The star pupil who has signed his name in permanent ink to the Irish fold. He’s only 18 and already playing some part at Southampton, we only hope that he can keep his Premier League status in the coming years. Irregardless, we’re banking on Obafemi to be at least a regular player for Southampton in the coming years if not starting on loan at a high level Championship club, enough to warrant a start in 2020.

FW Sean Maguire

Once his injuries stop playing up, we’re really counting on the former Cork City star to make his name at international level. It’s so frustrating that injuries have so far prevented us from seeing his full potential in a green shirt, but if he’s fit and ready he should be a guaranteed starter. He’ll be 26 by the time Kenny takes the reigns – lets hope at that stage he’s improved on his current haul of three caps.

FW Callum Robinson

The Preston man had established himself in O’Neill’s plans, and he’s shown enough to warrant the same under Big Mick. He’s still only 23 and we’re earmarking him to be one of our secret weapons in attack over the next few years in lieu of a reliable goalscorer. He’s another who could really drive on under Kenny when the time comes.


In fattening out the squad, we’d expect the likes of James McClean, Harry Arter, Shane Long and Conor Hourihane – who was unlucky not to make the starting eleven – still to be playing a major role. Cyrus Christie will revert to a fine squad player option, capable of being propelled into whatever role he’s needed in, but hopefully not at centre midfield. We’re higlighting Ronan Curtis, Jimmy Dunne, Lee O’Connor and Ryan Manning to make an impact at some stage, and for the rest to be adequate options whenever called upon.

Darren Randolph, Kieran O’Hara, Conor O’Malley, Seamus Coleman, Cyrus Christie, Kevin Long, Kevin Toner, John Egan, Lee O’Connor, Jimmy Dunne, Derrick Williams, Tyreke Wilson, James McClean, Conor Hourihane, Ryan Manning, Harry Arter, Jeff Hendrick, Aiden O’Brien, Scott Hogan, Ronan Curtis, Graham Burke, Shane Long

The Periphery

Gavin Bazunu, Paudie O’Connor, Conor Coventry, Adam Idah, Chris Shields, Troy Parrott. More suggestions are welcome.

The Author

Kevin Coleman

Founder and co-editor of Back Page Football and current host of our 'Three At The Back' weekly podcast.

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