Having a selection headache as Ireland manager normally means suspensions and injuries, however for Mick McCarthy – given the current crop of players coming through, he could well be spoilt for choice.
The game against Switzerland is crucial. Should Ireland win, a spot at Euro 2020 would be theirs to lose, having started the group impressively, sitting in top spot with four games played.
Here’s the side we feel McCarthy should field to reap the best results against the Swiss, with a shake-up in midfield proving key.
GK: Darren Randolph – Middlesbrough
The ‘Boro stopper has cemented his place and deservedly will start. A reliable No.1, he is likely to be called upon, and is the best man to do the job in the current squad, with experience and ability in abundance.
RB: Seamus Coleman – Everton
Matt Doherty has been excellent for Wolves, but the case is quite simple – you don’t drop your captain. Coleman is a solid full-back and able to get forward, and a real leader for his country. His presence on the pitch assures others, and he is crucial to the Irish set-up.
CB: Shane Duffy – Brighton
The first name on the team sheet, the Brighton man has been a colossus at the back for Ireland, with wonderful blocking, interceptions and aerial ability at both ends. He plays with his heart on his sleeve for Ireland and has been excellent in the campaign to date.
CB: John Egan – Sheffield United
This may come as a surprise inclusion, but with Premier League experience under his belt, it is time for Egan’s international career to kick off. Richard Keogh has been solid but lacks in pace. With Egan able to pass out from the back, it gives Ireland another option of approach. Youthful, forming a partnership with Duffy could prove fruitful in coming years.
LB: Enda Stevens – Sheffield United
Egan’s clubmate has been solid in his showings and is tenacious in defence while also having the ability going forward. A great crosser of the ball and pacey, he is the left-back Ireland have cried out for in recent times.
CDM: Conor Hourihane – Aston Villa
With Glenn Whelan in his twilight years and currently unattached, Hourihane is the new man to pull the strings for Ireland. He is well able to cut passing lanes and break up play, with a good eye going forward and excellent set-piece ability.
CDM: James McCarthy – Crystal Palace
It would be a bold call to throw him straight back into the fray, but there is no doubt McCarthy is one of Ireland’s best players when fully fit. Now back getting regular game time at the top level, it should revive his international career at a time where his absence was truly being felt.
RW: Callum O’Dowda – Bristol City
He is a bright spark who plays with confidence and the ability to turn a game on its head. O’Dowda’s positive style of play brings a new dimension to the Irish attack, and he is certain to be involved.
CAM: Alan Browne – Preston North End
Browne has been unlucky to miss out for Ireland with injuries, but he is a presence in the box as well as someone who clocks great numbers of goals and assists. Ireland need someone clinical, and he can be the provider in that sense.
LW: Callum Robinson – Sheffield United
He has been electrifying in pre-season, and has stepped up to Premier League level, he could be the star man for Ireland in years to come. Fast, clever on the ball and clinical in front of goal, Robinson is a cert for the Swiss tie.
ST: David McGoldrick – Sheffield United
Linking up well with Robinson at club level, he provides the perfect fit. The Swiss will be a tough opponent, and Ireland will need a presence to back into defenders and play the ball short, McGoldrick is superior to Sean Maguire at this, and given his form in previous qualifiers, he should get the nod upfront.
With all but three of the starting eleven at Premier League level, this is the Ireland side with the most potential to play with the most physical presence, while also holding the ability to unlock the defence. There are plenty of other options, with the likes of Daniel Crowley, Matt Doherty, Jeff Hendrick and others waiting in the wings, but this Ireland team could cause any side problems, and with many at a youthful age, it could prove very promising going forward.