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Every so often we take a look at the national pool and try and make some orderly sense of where everyone is. After the year that was, the ranking is crazier than ever with so much uncertainty, horrendous form at club and international level, injuries, fresh faces, potential, and a squad selection turnover that we’ve never seen before due to a variety of reasons.
The ranking is broadly based on three factors: 1) international form – form in the green shirt trumps all, 2) club form – this, often difficult to come by factor, will give some guys the edge over others and 3) Stephen Kenny’s preferences –as we know by now, Kenny’s preference for young up-and-comers over some of the tried and tested figures does play a factor in the rankings.
1 John Egan
At the moment, the only bona-fide starter in the team. With strong debates still to be had over pretty much every position, except maybe left back, John Egan is a guaranteed starter and the first player on Kenny’s and anyone else’s strongest eleven. The Championship situation isn’t ideal considering how well he had done in the Premier League, but it’s a good chance to win a lot of games and gain some momentum.
2 Dara O’Shea
The first of the younger generation to come in and make the role his own. Had a tough season with West Brom, but eight appearances in a row for Ireland shows he’s gained the trust of Kenny and is likely to be part of a back two or three for many years to come. Still only 22, he’ll well on his way to a significant cap haul if things continue on an upward curve.
3 Conor Hourihane
Often frustrating in an Ireland shirt, Hourihane was the form player going into the summer camp which has helped him to this lofty position in the list (to be fair, the bar was quite low). Started both games against Andorra and Hungary and was lively if unspectacular. He’s in a mix of a number of midfield players that could all start against Portugal, but his club form and inclusion in the camp will stand to him. A return to the Championship is likely where he excels.
4 Alan Browne
Seemed to emerge as Kenny’s favoured midfield player, he started all games he’s been available for since the Slovakia game and has acquitted himself well each time. Was a big loss in the Luxembourg game. Loved at club level and beginning to gain respect for Ireland, he’s in every squad and very much in the conversation to start as long as he stays upright.
5 Daryl Horgan
The Salthill Silva, Horgan has been consistently consistent whenever he’s thrown on the green jersey. Has never outrageously stood out, but is beginning to emerge as one of Ireland’s most solid performers when called upon and his first goal against Andorra was a great moment. Still only 28, he’s earned a right to be included in squads going forward and has put his hand up for a part against Portugal after his summer camp.
6 Matt Doherty
Has already doubled his cap count under Kenny, who pinned his hat to the Spurs man early on. Having said that, he’s never recaptured some of that 2018-2020 Wolves form for Ireland and often cuts a frustrating figure. Seems to have cemented the right back role, or right wing back when there’s three at the back, but certainly needs to stand out more. His club situation with a new manager incoming will be interesting.
7 Callum Robinson
Our Premier League top scorer, Robinson has emerged as an Ireland favourite and certainly seems to love representing his country. His West Brom form at times was excellent this season, particularly against Chelsea, but things rarely go his way for Ireland. Led the line against Serbia and Luxembourg and probably should have been left on against the latter. His absence from the summer camp leaves him in a precarious position going into the Portugal game, but his seniority could hand him a starting role.
8 Gavin Bazunu
Wow. Well, talk about a meteoric rise for the 19-year-old goalkeeper who emerged at Shamrock Rovers when he was just 16 and is now on the books at Manchester City. Already showing confidence and leadership well beyond his years, he’s cemented his name on every panel, quite possibly, for the next decade and a half. Has tough competition in the goalkeeper room but Kenny is likely to stick with Bazunu for his calmness, shot-stopping and effortless leadership qualities.
9 Seamus Coleman
The captain has been unlucky with improved club form this season to compete with Doherty, who this time last year was in the discussion as one of the best right backs in the league. Will always give everything to the cause, whether that’s in a starting role or from the sidelines. His club future is interesting with a new manager incoming at Everton. You feel there’s more to see from him and the defence in a back three setup.
10 Jason Knight
The next of the younger generation to stake his claim for a starting role, Knight – at just 20-year-old – has emerged as a club favourite at Derby County and is often linked with a transfer up the pyramid. Surviving relegation was huge for him as you feel he can at least forge a very respectable Championship career. His goal against Andorra was a great moment and with seven caps already, is another who could be on the cusp of a long career in the green shirt.
11 Troy Parrott
Enter, Troy. His performance from 1-nil down against Andorra showed what he was about and with two goals is now, already, one of our leading goalscorers and now surely an auto-pick regardless of his club situation. Having said that, he badly needs a good club season after disappointments at Milwall and Ipswich last year. Has immense work rate, which is something that’s been overlooked until now. Seems to be aware of his hype and is keen to deliver on it.
12 Josh Cullen
The Anderlecht man has emerged as the number six, has possibly the safest club situation going into next year, but we still want to see more. A solid player who may excel when things settle around him. Still only 25 and likely to start against Portugal next September, his involvement against Andorra and Hungary will have helped him in cementing that role in midfield.
13 Shane Duffy
Signed off on a truly horrid year with a decent showing against Hungary, landing in the right club situation this season will be vital. Still has years and big performances left in him for Ireland despite a slew of young defenders coming through, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kenny stick with him going forward in big games while we wait and see how others grow at club level.
14 James McClean
Mr Perennial, McClean still seems to be an auto-pick in the squad and will have to have the green jersey taken off his dead, cold hands before he ever voluntarily gives it up. His experience, tireless work rate and passion for Ireland looks to be enough to keep him in the squad for another while yet.
15 Adam Idah
Idah looks to be Kenny’s number nine of choice, despite limited club form. Has a genuine work rate and interesting athletic profile that if things click could really drive him forward for club and country. Clearly admired at Norwich, but could do with a loan to the Championship where he can start and avoid injury. Still only 20 but has already had a huge amount of responsibility laid on him, leading the line in an often-thankless task for Ireland.
16 Enda Stevens
Missed the summer camp, but is Ireland’s best left back despite a difficult year for Sheffield United. May work better in a left wing back role. Either way, his position isn’t under threat as long as he’s upright with McClean and Ryan Manning in reserve, who seems to be a bit off this level yet, notably only given five minutes over the course of the summer tour.
17 Jayson Molumby
Another young star, another precarious club position, Molumby seems to be an auto-pick but you’d really want to see him either get a breakthrough at Brighton, where he’s supposedly very highly rated, or find a club where he can have a season like he did at Milwall two years ago. Nine caps already, his leadership qualities have been praised and he seems to be a spiky, future-captain type of figure. Hasn’t had any major moments in the Ireland shirt just yet, but could easily grow into a role. Given the position, he needs a club run.
18 Callum O’Dowda
Often overlooked from an Irish perspective, it’s no coincidence that he has been called upon by three different managers. Has sneakily had one of the most consistent club spells of any Irish player with five seasons in the Championship at Bristol City, but ended this season on the injury table.
19 Caoimhin Kelleher
Debuted at half-time against Hungary after an impressive opening 45 from Bazunu and somehow managed to match that performance. For club and now country, seems to be a fantastic shot-stopper and calm figure, and may have the upper hand on Bazunu when it comes to getting the ball to his feet. It’s a welcome headache for any manager and club form may separate the two, especially if Kelleher can get a loan spell this season at a top tier club abroad as has been rumoured.
20 Jeff Hendrick
Another auto-pick when available, Hendrick has had five seasons in a row in the Premier League but still feels like he has to do more in an Ireland shirt. Has a number of colleagues vying for a midfield position but his seniority and experience could give him the nod against Portugal, but at the same time Kenny won’t be afraid to leave him out. Reliable if frustrating at times, which is beginning to hurt his must-start status that he had for so long.
21 Jamie McGrath
His statistics at St Mirren last season are enough to catapult him up this list, despite only debuting against Andorra. The demand for a win there and the hope of a decent performance against Hungary probably limited his gametime, as in any other situation you’d imagine he would have started at least one game. Still only 24 and his club form can’t be ignored going into future international selections.
22 James Collins
Like it or not, the burly Cardiff striker is high in the pecking order until some of the younger players emerge. Seems to be well liked in the team and is a committed player, even if he lacks a lot of technical ability. Has a decent goal record for Luton, the move to stay in the Championship with Cardiff will be interesting and he might suit their style.
23 James McCarthy
Was billed as an integral player of Kenny’s vision for Ireland, the reality hasn’t been as good and years of injury problems has dented his club and international career. Is now a free agent and if he can find a club where he can start at a reasonably high level, he is still one of Ireland’s most talented players on his day. Still only 30 so there’s time left for a late renaissance.
24 Darren Randolph
Injuries have left the door open for Bazunu and Kelleher to essentially seize the number one jersey from his grasp, which he’s held with distinction for many years. 50 caps for Ireland is a great haul but his club form, where he seems to enjoy playing second fiddle at West Ham, hasn’t helped him progress. Had a great spell at Middlesbrough and at times looks like a Premier League calibre goalkeeper, so it’s frustrating not to see more of him. Either way, makes up a trio of an exceptionally strong ‘keeper room.
25 Aaron Connolly
A slide here given he’s missed so much international action and seems to have struck a huge amount of bad luck ever since the close contact nonsense on the way over to Slovakia. Is well in at Brighton having signed a long term deal, but he hasn’t matched the heights of his debut brace against Spurs and still seems untrusted by Graham Potter. Tricky, pacy and direct, you feel he can and will make a super front three with Idah and Parrott eventually, but he needs a good club spell and to be upright when the international breaks come around. Still only 21, has shone the earliest out of this entire era but has struggled to maintain it, but there’s plenty of time.
26 Robbie Brady
Another free agent, where he lands this season will be very important as at 29, he still has loads to offer. Has had more big moments than most in this list, injuries have been an issue which means he may have to take a step down at club level. Has a lot of competition for places and isn’t a guaranteed starter anymore, but has so much to offer with set pieces and ball playing ability in the right circumstances.
27 Ciaran Clark
Some hairy performances have dropped him down the pecking order and is likely to be vying for selection with a few that are yet to make an appearance. Has struggled with the ball-playing requirements of Kenny’s setup and Duffy’s game against Hungary will have put him further down the pecking order. Still a Premier League player however, with plenty of experience to offer should it be needed.
28 Cyrus Christie
Has sneakily had a really good Irish career, with 28 caps and some consistent performances. Is third choice right back competing with Lee O’Connor, but given so many injuries over the years he’s been called upon quite regularly and has always donned the jersey with distinction. Still only 28 and has more years to offer. Is a high-calibre Championship right back, which is more than enough for us when it comes to second or third choice full back.
29 Andrew Omobamidele
The first on the list yet to make an appearance, Omobamidele’s finish at Norwich this season has sky-rocketed him in the eyes and minds of Irish fans and Kenny, who selected him for the summer tour where he unfortunately didn’t make an appearance. Seems to have every single attribute necessary and has been compared to Norwich alumni like Ben Godfrey. It will be interested to see if his upward curve continues with Norwich now in the Premier League or if a loan awaits. Either way, out of all of the young outfield options he looks to have the most exciting career ahead of him at the moment.
30 Chiedozie Ogbene
The Rotherham man, via Cork City and Limerick, only has a few minutes to his name but seemed to cause more havoc in that time than most in a similar position as an impact sub or backup attacker. The first African-born Irish international, he might have done enough to warrant selection going forward over others who have failed to make such an impact. Still only 24, there’s a higher ceiling in selecting him in attack than perhaps the likes of Ronan Curtis or even Shane Long.
31 Harry Arter
32 Shane Long
33 Ronan Curtis
34 Lee O’Connor
35 Ryan Manning
36 Sean Maguire
37 Danny Mandriou
38 Jack Byrne
39 Kevin Long
40 Sammie Szmodics
41 Michael Obafemi
42 Darragh Lenihan
43 Mark Travers
44 Jack Taylor
45 Conor Coventry
46 Graham Burke
47 Aaron McEneff
48 Nathan Collins
49 Michael Duffy
50 Wes Hoolahan 😉