The Stephen Kenny era has been marred with bad luck so far. From injuries to false negative COVID tests, it’s been rare that anything close to a full squad has been available for selection.
Despite this there have been positives in performances. Kenny is clearly trying to get his team to play more football. If Ireland take the game to the inconsistent Serbs who failed to qualify for Euro2020, they will have their chances. Here is how we would like to see Ireland line up.
Current Ireland senior men’s squad for games against Serbia, Luxembourg, and Qatar (as per the42.ie on 21-3-21).
Goalkeepers: Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth), Gavin Bazunu (Rochdale, on loan from Manchester City), Kieran O’Hara (Burton Albion).
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Shane Duffy (Celtic, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United), Dara O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), Cyrus Christie (Nottingham Forest), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers).
Midfielders: Alan Browne (Preston North End), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Jayson Molumby (Preston North End, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion), Jason Knight (Derby County), Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Conor Coventry (West Ham United).
Forwards: Robbie Brady (Burnley), James McClean (Stoke City), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth), Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), Shane Long (AFC Bournemouth, on loan from Southampton), James Collins (Luton Town), Troy Parrott (Ipswich Town, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur).
We’ve seen a lot of 1-4-3-3 in recent times for Ireland, sometimes a 1-4-3-3 that morphs into a 1-4-5-1. The two issues that often arise with these formations are we don’t have a striker who can play that lone number 9 role (at least not yet). In addition to this playing a back 4 hasn’t suited as the center-backs aren’t mobile enough and there hasn’t been enough protection in front of them in recent games. In the games that there has been enough protection, Ireland have struggled to move the ball forward. And the elephant in the room has been how to fit in Doherty and Coleman, along with Stevens.
That brings us to the 1-3-5-2. A back 3 is inherently more defensive than a back 4, as contradictory as it may seem. This is because you have 3 central defenders who can be compact in front of goal while the wing-backs can venture further up the pitch with more of an eye towards attacking than defending. The midfield 5 allows for 1 holding midfielder to screen the defense while the other two central midfielders work the ball forward from deep and press higher up. The front two will create more space against the opposition defenders (Serbia tend to play a back 3) which allows the wing-backs to find more space themselves.
Stephen Kenny seems settled on Mark Travers as next in line behind the injured Darren Randolph and Coaimhim Kelleher. Travers is playing at the highest level of the available keepers and has 2 previous caps.
From Right to Left: Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy, Dara O’Shea.
Coleman can fit into that back 3 on the right. He’s too much of a vital player to leave out. Despite struggling for form at Celtic, Shane Duffy has not become a bad player overnight. He’s a leader in the team, and would arguably be a better presence as the physical middle man in a back three where he will have more cover. Dara O’Shea offers a Premier League level solid 3rd man.
Doherty and Stevens as wing-backs. An important part of this will be switching wings occasionally to become inverted wingers. Similar to Duffy, Doherty having a difficult time at club level has not turned him into a bad player. The two wide men will have licence to go forward under Kenny.
For the middle 3: Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby, Alan Browne. Josh Cullen doesn’t get the praise he deserves, likely because he no longer plays in England. He wins the ball back, plays it forward, gets into good positions, and offers himself as an option to take possession. Jayson Molumby is similar. We saw in his performances for Ireland last year he has no trouble getting on the ball and demanding it. That’s what we need, midfielders who aren’t afraid to take the ball and the opposition on. Alan Browne offers a reliable solid experienced presence in midfield. Jason Knight, who has captained Derby this season, offers an energetic presence off the bench.
Some may wonder about the omissions of Hendrick, Brady, and McClean. The reality is good performances from this trio at international level have been rare since Euro2016. That’s 5 years ago. Nobody should be guaranteed a place. Brady and McClean will offer experience off the bench, while Hendrick needs to be taken out of the team as a wake-up call that his position requires a player that will play the ball forward and take on players.
Troy Parrott is the most natural finisher we have. He has to start.
For his partner, the most obvious options are James Collins, Aaron Connolly, and Callum Robinson. Collins is the most prolific of those 3 this season, he’s banging them in for Luton Town. Although it may have been better to have him on the bench until the hour mark and have the pace of Aaron Connolly up there with Parrott, who will be the target man. However Connolly has had injuries this season and has not been able to train consistently. Callum Robinson would offer a certain versatility up front, and could do most of the running while Parrott gets into good positions. For now I’d give Robinson the nod with an eye to bringing on Collins at the 60 minute mark.
We’ll have an episode of Peil and Back looking at the international sides up on Friday. Before that you can get our episode of Peil and Back on domestic football on Thursday, looking at the first round of Premier Division games, and looking ahead to the start of the Women’s National League and First Division. Search Post to Post Sport on most podcast platforms including Spotify and subscribe there. Or you can get our last 10 shows by clicking Latest Episodes on the Menu above.