As the Republic of Ireland prepare for just their third appearance in the European Championships having previously qualified in 1988 and 2012, it shows the excellent job that Martin O’Neill has done so far.
The quadrennial major international tournament will be held in France this year and Ireland will be hoping to go one step further than 2012 and make it out of the group.
After the failure to reach the 2014 World Cup, Giovanni Trappatoni left the job and Martin O’Neill with Roy Keane as his assistant was quickly appointed.
In one of the most difficult groups in European Championship qualifying, the Republic of Ireland faced Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Poland, and Scotland.
As most predicted that Germany and Poland would take the top two spots, it was a straight shootout between Scotland and the Republic of Ireland for the final place.
The Republic of Ireland succeeded with 18 out of 30 points beating Scotland to a playoff spot. Martin O’Neill’s side then went on to defeat Bosnia & Herzegovina 3-1 to secure a spot at the tournament in France.
The task hasn’t got any easier for the Republic of Ireland since qualifying as they are in the dubbed ‘group of death’ with Belgium, Sweden, and Italy.
With a large Irish contingent within the Football League, this article will look at FIVE Republic of Ireland Football League stars to look out for in France…………….
GK- Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
One Republic of Ireland Football League star who comes into the tournament in excellent form is Keiren Westwood.
The shot-stopper has had a superb season in goal for Sheffield Wednesday keeping 11 clean sheets in 35 Championship appearances and was a key reason why the South Yorkshire side reached the playoff final.
In the final itself, Westwood made some excellent saves and was unlucky to finish on the losing side.
His performances have attracted the attention of a number of Premier League sides including Middlesbrough. If Westwood was to have a good tournament in France, it could potentially put him in the shop window.
From the qualification stage and recent friendlies, it appears that West Ham United’s Darren Randolph is the Republic of Ireland’s first choice goalkeeper and Westwood is the likely backup option followed by the veteran David Forde.
However, his performances throughout the season could give Martin O’Neill food for thought as he has arguably been in better form than Darren Randolph, even though the latter plays at a higher level.
Regardless of who O’Neill decides to go with, there is an abundance of quality in Ireland’s goalkeeping position.
RB- Cyrus Christie (Derby County)
Another Irish Football League star to potentially look out for at the European Championships is Derby County defender Cyrus Christie.
The former Coventry right back has had another impressive season for the Rams and like Keiren Westwood helped his side reach the playoffs, however Derby fell at the semi-final stage to the eventual victors Hull City.
Despite the fact that Christie has only 4 caps for the Republic of Ireland, his performance in the 1-o victory over the World Cup champions Germany in the qualification stage was particularly memorable.
The performance showcased both his attacking qualities down the right hand flank but also his defensive attributes as his athleticism helped to cover the lack of pace in the Irish back line, and he played an instrumental role in a memorable victory.
It is most likely that Christie will be Seamus Coleman’s understudy throughout the tournament but if Coleman was to suffer an injury or suspension, Christie would be an able and talented replacement in the right back position.
CB- Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)
With the main issue being a lack of mobility in the defensive areas, particularly in the central defender positions, Martin O’Neill may select Aston Villa’s 26 year old defender, Ciaran Clark.
Although Aston Villa had a season to forget after relegation to the Championship, Clark’s reputation hasn’t been too severely tarnished and a number of Premier League sides are considering paying the reported £5 million needed for Clark to move away from Villa Park.
Ciaran Clark will be disappointed with his performances this season, however, Martin O’Neill may give him a chance to rectify his mistakes for the Irish national team.
Clark has been capped 18 times and the Essex-born defender will be hoping to add to his tally over the summer in France. Clark’s main competition may be fellow Championship defenders, Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy.
However O’Neill may opt to play the most experienced centre-half John O’Shea with a centre-half partner with the athleticism to cover O’Shea’s lack of pace which Clark would provide.
The centre half positions appear to be the position up for grabs and Clark will be hoping to prove over the next weeks that he can justify his inclusion and cement a starting spot in the Ireland’s back four.
CAM- Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)
A key player for Martin O’Neill’s Ireland side and a lynchpin within the 4-2-3-1 system that Ireland deploys is Norwich City playmaker, Wes Hoolahan.
The 34 year old has thirty caps for the Republic of Ireland and has been an influential figure not only in Martin O’Neill’s set up but also Giovanni Trappatoni’s side.
As the playmaker in the centre of the park, Hoolahan has the responsibility to both drop deeper and offer defensive support in midfield when out of possession but also push forward almost as a second striker to ensure the lone striker isn’t left isolated meaning Wes Hoolahan plays a crucial role.
With excellent technical ability and the vision and technique to interlink the play, Hoolahan will be expected to pull the strings and it is expected that if anyone is to provide a creative spark, it will be him.
Despite Norwich’s lone season in the Premier League, it is unlikely to have any impact on Hoolahan’s place in the Republic of Ireland’s starting line up.
ST- Daryl Murphy (Ipswich Town)
Although both Ipswich Town and Daryl Murphy had disappointing seasons with Ipswich finishing outside the playoffs and Murphy having a significantly less prolific season than last where he finished the season with 27 Championship goals, the Irish striker still managed to score 10 goals.
Internationally, Murphy has been less prolific but his adaptability to play both in his natural number 9 role along with his ability to play on the left gives Martin O’Neill a different option.
The versatility of Murphy will be an enticing asset for Martin O’Neill to have at his disposal and is most likely why Murphy has been selected over his fellow compatriot and teammate David McGoldrick.
The Championship striker will face tough competition for appearances at the tournament as he faces in-form Shane Long, captain Robbie Keane, and veteran Jonathan Walters for a place in the starting line-up.
Murphy does, however, provide Martin O’Neill with a different option as a traditional old school target man who can bully defenders physically and it could help Ireland gain an edge in that sense.
It will be interesting to see how O’Neill uses his attacking options but Murphy could be used both as a starter or as an effective impact substitution.