Martin, Unleash the Youth

Martin, Unleash the Youth

The progress made by this team under the stewardship of Martin O'Neill over the last 18 months has been well documented on this site.

However, a look at the bench on Friday night brings to light one of the areas where O'Neill has not performed all too well in that time. 

It is of course not his fault that two of the three players nominated for Young Player of the Year last week were 25 but it could be argued that O'Neill hasn't developed the peripheries of the squad and most certainly the progress of some of our younger players.

It has been said that Irish players are late developers in general and it certainly seems to be the case.  Shortly after taking the job, O'Neill expressed his disappointment with the lack of young talent coming through.  Certainly, the lack of underage success has been profound in the last 15 years bar the rare occasional group qualifying for underage international tournaments.

Squad Balance: Managing the Age Profile

We did an article here last August highlighting some of the players we felt had the ability to make competitive international squads in the coming year.  A review of that article now says we were grossly optimistic in our expectations.

Indeed the likes of Andy Boyle, Conor Hourihane, Callum O'Dowda, Daryl Horgan and perhaps John Egan may get game time tonight but up to now O'Neill has been very much focused on continuity - evolution rather than revolution. And who could blame him.

If there is opportunity for promoting some of our emerging talent, it is at the expense of guys selected at the back end of each squad - numbers 19-23 of the group perhaps.  But O'Neill will appreciate the contribution of the likes of Stephen Quinn and Paul McShane (perhaps to a lesser extent Alex Pearce and Darren Gibson) over the three and a half years of his tenure.

In O'Neill's defence it is very plausible to imagine that many of this 'Emerging Fringe' would have been capped, had we not qualified for EURO 2016, in the friendlies that preceded the tournament and Iceland are our first friendly opponents since Oman in August when focus was very much on preparing for the difficult trip to Serbia that followed soon after.

Nonetheless, is there really much merit in including guys like Stephen Gleeson in games like these? Johnny Hayes turns 30 in July.  Late developers or not, are these guys likely to have a big impact on our national team in the coming years?  Or would these peripheral spots be better used by giving exposure to the squad environment to 2 or 3 of our younger talents, which will better help the integration and education that is so required as part of the step up to international football?

O'Neill will certainly be disappointed that Liam Kelly (21) had to return injured to his club having put in some headline raising performances in midfield for Reading this season.  And no doubt he's been tracking the rise of Ryan Manning for QPR of late.

Selecting some younger players is certainly something that should be looked at over a game by game basis.  Obviously, away to Serbia and Austria you might require a different squad mix than perhaps Moldova at home, where the last 3-4 players squad members, who are essentially just making up the numbers, are maybe chosen with the future in mind that the past.

Who is Our Reserve Left Back?

Who was our replacement left-back on Friday night? Cyrus Christie? David Meyler? Andy Boyle? None of whom have any reasonable experience in the position. 

The exclusion of Greg Cunningham (26) from the squad is bizarre.  4 caps under Giovanni Trapattoni and a Player of the Year award at Preston last year, form that he appears to have continued on this season.  Robbie Brady has now progressed to the point that selecting him at left back takes away too much from our midfield.  Cunningham is the obvious candidate.

It appears the management don't rate him.  If so, why not choose a different left back?

Striking the Bottom of the Barrel

It was well documented that Ireland had the oldest average aged squad competing at Euro 2016.  Granted, the likes of the on-looking Shay Given (40) and Robbie Keane (35) certainly inflated this.

However, the demographic of our striking options remain stark.  How many of Murphy (34), Walters (33), Long (30), Doyle (33) are going to be at the peak of their physical condition if we qualify for Russia in 15 months time?

O'Neill has been quietly working behind the scenes attempting to recruit a foreign born option.  His pursuit of Scott Hogan and Lukas Jutkiewicz suggests he doesn't see the uncapped Adam Rooney (29) as the answer to our woes.

Will Rooney ever be good enough to start a competitive game for Ireland?

Where is Ireland's next striking talent to come from?

It is highly conceivable that Sean Maguire (22) of Cork City will be playing and scoring in the Championship in 12 months time.  Should we wait until then to bring him into the fold? In some positions we need to help facilitate the player more than in others.  Our striker situation requires the expediting of Maguire's path to international level.

Squad Evolution

This article isn't seeking to denigrate the considerable progress O'Neill has made with this group of players but merely arguing that for talent to make the step up it needs to be nurtured.  It is not purely down to performances at club level.

With the injuries that so affected us in the build up to the Wales game, tonight is a great opportunity for some of our emerging talent to get the stamp of validation for their international credentials and represent genuine options to play a role in the remainder of our World Cup qualification process. 

When Austria and Serbia come to town we need a bench that has genuine options on it.  The candidates are there. 

Expected Starting Line-Up


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