There are torture methods less agonising than what you experienced while watching the Republic of Ireland in Antalya last night. A couple of disclaimers of course – it was a friendly, it counted for absolutely nothing and there were a lot of new faces. However, the lack of enthusiasm people will feel after sitting through games like that over and over is an issue going forward.
To be rescued from this antiquated vessel that is the Martin O’Neill ship of seventeenth century football, we must look to the future; to players who may try and unlock the chains the Derry native has attached to their desire to express themselves, at least in part, on match day surfaces.
Thankfully, we think we may have the XI that can find a balance between O’Neill’s defensive rigour and the need for professionals to actually do what they’re paid for – winning games.
This is no throwback to 4-4-2, or is it a Bielsa-laden cluster of 3-3-3-1. It’s easy, it’s modern and it puts the trust in the players.
Goalkeeper – Darren Randolph:
While some can argue that Kieren Westwood is a better goalkeeper and Kieran O’Hara is the future, nobody can deny that Randolph does very little wrong for his country. He seems settled in Middlesbrough and it would be fruitless by getting rid of a player who has actually produced.
Right Back – Seamus Coleman:
O Captain! My Captain! The highlight of Antalya was seeing this man back playing for the Republic of Ireland. The loss of his presence was very much felt in the run-in against the likes of Serbia and Denmark. He still looks like he has plenty in the tank, yet.
Centre Half – Shane Duffy:
Perhaps Ireland’s best player last year, Duffy’s dominant in the air and is the perfect blend of aggression and intelligence on a football pitch. He hasn’t got much in the way of footballing ability, but centre halves are a pair for a reason.
Centre Half – Kevin Long:
Not so long ago, it felt like Ireland has absolutely no depth whatsoever and all of a sudden, choosing a back four became tricky again. This may prove to be the most divisive selection given the fact Ciaran Clark has been solid for his country whenever called upon, but Long is the better footballer.
Left Back – Robbie Brady:
Just a couple of things. No position has ever caused this nation more trouble since that bloody treaty in 1921. We’re aware that there’s little in the way coming through – a switch to three at the back may nullify it, but for now, Robbie Brady is Ireland’s best option. You retain his set piece deliveries, he’s a genuine overlap threat and Stephen Ward is 32.
Holding Midfielder – Declan Rice:
Oh, baby. The great thing about this boy is that he looks like he could have actually played for England. What’s even better is that he didn’t spend enough time in any FA camp to completely lose his bottle in big situations yet. In all seriousness, he looks a player and he could be the shining light in this team for years to come. He goes into midfield because we defend by system, not by individual talent. His ability is needed further up the pitch.
Box-to-Box Midfielder – Harry Arter:
He hasn’t always shone for Ireland. He hasn’t always been played in his best position. Arter’s ability to get out of tight spaces and make runs off the ball is what separates him technically and this will continue to be his best role in an Ireland shirt.
Right Winger – Jon Walters:
I realised I complained about Stephen Ward being 32, but Walters is yet to have a bad game for Ireland and we’re just a far better unit when he’s in the side. You can’t slow down if you were never that nimble to begin with and he’s a player who can score goals in a side that seriously lacks killer instinct. Also offers flexibility to go two up front if the situation calls for it.
Left Winger – James McClean:
Do they come any more left-wing than James McClean? Anyway. The one thing you can say about this man that you can’t say about many others, not just in Ireland, but at international level in general, is that he adores playing for his country. He’s always the man for the big moments, too. You can’t drop that knack when you possess it.
The Ten – Conor Hourihane:
You know how you get the most out of playing a number ten? By actually selecting a player who’s a number ten. However, because Wes Hoolahan was finally discovered at the age of 50, Conor Hourihane is now likely a place-holder. His shooting range is impressive, though – and he’ll interchange with Arter here. See – dynamics.
Striker – Shane Long:
Don’t even @ me. He’s still far and away the most technically refined striker Ireland have, even if he went several moon cycles without finding a net, let alone putting a ball in it. He can run channels, he can head the ball, he can shoot, he can hold it up, he can run in behind. Oh, did you know he battered Germany, too? Not sure if we mentioned that.