Ireland will struggle to make it out of the group stages in France.
The European Championship holds special memories for Irish supporters as Euro 88 was the first finals tournament for which the Republic qualified. But there are no happy memories of Euro 2012 and fans will be hoping that Martin O’Neill is more adventurous than Giovanni Trapattoni was in Poland four years ago.
The Irish players were not happy with Trapattoni in 2012 as they spent too much time at a training camp in Italy. This time the Irish will play Holland in Dublin and then move to Fota Island holiday resort in Cork to prepare.
O’Neill’s task in his first campaign as an international manager was to get the Republic of Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals and he just about did that, finishing third in what was a tough group and then beating Bosnia-Herzegovina in a play-off.
He made a good start in the qualifiers, beating Georgia in Tbilisi thanks to a late strike from Aiden McGeady and then demonstrated he was not afraid of making a hard call when dropping captain and record goalscorer Robbie Keane for the game against Scotland at Parkhead. The Irish disappointed that night and, when they could only draw with Poland and Scotland in Dublin, it was wasn’t looking good for that play-off spot.
However, O’Neill never gave up hope and Ireland’s fortunes changed in the
first week of September last year. While Scotland, who were the Republic’s main challengers for the play-off spot, lost away to Georgia and at home to Germany, Ireland picked up maximum points away to Gibraltar and at home to Georgia. Then came the 1-0 home win over Germany at the Aviva in October thanks to a Shane Long goal. That win meant the Irish had taken four out of a possible six points from the world champions.
There was little time for the players to recover from their Germany exploits and three days later they were beaten 2-1 by Poland in Warsaw. So, for the eighth time in a major tournament, it was the play-off route for the Irish.
Luckily, the first leg of the play-off away to Bosnia was not abandoned due to fog and the Irish emerged from the Zenica mist with a comfortable 2-1 away win, before duly finishing the job in Dublin.
O’Neill surprised a lot of people when Shay Given was injured against Germany, by calling on Darren Randolph from the bench rather than David Forde. There are no superstars for him to choose from and he has done well with a mixture of Premier League and Championship players. Now he faces some difficult calls. Will he wait for Given and will there be game time in France for veteran Keane?
The Republic have played a total of 19 games in the European Championship and World Cup since 1988, winning only three and drawing nine. They are capable of beating Sweden but, unless someone hits a purple patch, it his hard to see them beating Belgium or Italy, where one or maybe two draws is probably the best
to hope for.
Martin O’Neill looks spoiled for choice in the goalkeeping department. With veteran Shay Given struggling to be fit, Darren Randolph is likely to start and there is plenty of cover in David Forde and Keiren Westwood. Rob Elliot looked certain to be included, but injured his knee against Slovakia in March.
The back four is steady with veteran John O’Shea and Richard Keogh likely to be the central defenders. However, Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark are not far behind. Seamus Coleman is a classy right-back, while Clark could play on the other flank.
Robbie Brady or Stephen Ward could also play at left-back, with Brady likely to be included in midfield if O’Neill goes with a 4-5-1 or a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Aiden McGeady normally plays on the right of midfield, and O’Neill has always been a fan of his, but McGeady hasn’t played much this season. James McCarthy, Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick will therefore compete for the two central midfield roles. Wes Hoolahan is often used as the playmaker and he will sit in behind a lone front man.
With Robbie Keane no longer able to play that role, Shane Long will compete with Daryl Murphy, who although a regular goalscorer in the Championship has yet to break his duck in 20 internationals. The veteran Keane may, however, get the chance of one last finals appearance from the bench.
If O’Neill decides to switch to a 4-4-2 formation, Walters will more than likely
be pushed further forward to partner Long up front.
Age 64 (01.03.52)
A popular choice when taking over from caretaker Noel King in November 2013, who stepped in when Giovanni Trapattoni left in September. Perhaps overshadowed by his assistant Roy Keane in the early days, he says he and the former national skipper get on very well and he often jokes about the ex-midfielder’s temper.
Twice won the League Cup as manager of Leicester City and led Celtic to three Scottish Premiership tiles and the 2003 UEFA Cup Final.
By Sean Creedon
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (West Ham), Shay Given (Stoke), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday).
Defenders: Cyrus Christie (Derby), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Richard Keogh (Derby), Shane Duffy (Blackburn), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Stephen Ward (Burnley).
Midfielders: James McClean (West Brom), Glenn Whelan (Stoke), James McCarthy (Everton), Jeff Hendrick (Derby), Stephen Quinn (Reading), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich), David Meyler (Hull), Robbie Brady (Norwich), Aiden McGeady (Everton).
Forwards: Jon Walters (Stoke), Shane Long (Southampton), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Daryl Murphy (Ipswich).
Jun 13 v Sweden (Paris, France)
Jun 18 v Belgium (Bordeaux, France)
Jun 22 v Italy (Lille, France)