With the League of Ireland enjoying an increased focus in early season, it is clear fitness levels and technical quality in the league have increased in recent years.
For the past number of seasons, there have been calls for Martin O’Neill to include league prospects such as Seanie Maguire & Chris Forrester while they were in the domestic game. Underage Ireland Squads are often picked from home based players, let’s have a look at what a home based senior squad would potentially look like.
Goalkeepers: Shane Supple (Bohemians), Mark McNulty (Cork City) & Gary Rodgers (Dundalk).
Shane Supple has established himself as a top goalkeeper in the league since signing for Bohemians in 2016. Supple was earmarked as a future number one for the senior side before retirement. He has one Under-21 cap to his name. Mark McNulty and Gary Rogers provide regular European game time and title challenging experience to make up the goalkeeper selection. Rogers has experience of being in the Irish set-up previously but without any game time.
Defenders: Sean Gannon (Dundalk), Joey O’Brien (Shamrock Rovers), Dane Massey (Dundalk), Sean Kavanagh (Shamrock Rovers), Brian Gartland (Dundalk), Danny Kane (Cork City) & Aaron Barry (Cork City)
O’Brien makes the squad on his overseas career having just signed for Rovers in the off season. He has 109 Premier League games to his name. That stat and his 5 International appearances would have been added to greatly only for injury. Sean Kavanagh also gains entry due to his overseas exploits. After snubbing Derry City, Kenny Shiels commented, “I think he’ll be the best left back in the league”. He is sure to shine. Gannon, Massey, Gartland and Barry all receive call ups after several years of impeccable consistency.
Danny Kane is not in the Cork City team yet, but he is sure to gain a place sooner rather than later. He is a regular in the Ireland Under-21 team ahead of the likes of Ryan Delaney.
Midfield: Conor McCormack (Cork City), Owen Garvan (St. Patrick’s Atheltic), Chris Shields (Dundalk), Stephen O’Donnell (Dundalk), Robbie Benson (Dundalk) & Ronan Finn (Shamrock Rovers).
The central midfield positions were by far the hardest positions to call, such is the quality in the league at the moment. I have picked players that will cover the number 6 and 8 positions as well as third midfield options. For me, Robbie Benson is a huge talent. We can see in the early stages of the season that he has adopted an even more attacking mindset with several shots on goal a game. The left feet of Benson, O’Donnell & Garvan add real quality on the ball to this squad. Garvan has 15 Under-21 caps as well as 238 Championship appearances. Shields, McCormack and Finn add physique, intelligence and flair respectively to our midfield options.
Attacking Midfielders: Karl Sheppard (Cork City), Kieran Sadlier (Cork City), Dylan Connolly (Dundalk) & Brandon Miele (Shamrock Rovers).
More selection headaches in these roles but I am happy with the potential goal and assist return in these four. Sheppard has consistently provided for Cork City while Saldier looks set for a fantastic season ahead. He also adds versatility and can play in a number 10 role with ease. He has similar attributes to Liverpool’s Adam Lallana. Brandon Miele adds similar quality, flair and versatility. Connolly adds a different dynamic to the attack with serious pace from the wing. Rovers’ Trevor Clarke is unlucky to miss out.
Strikers: Ronan Murray (Dundalk), Graham Cummins (Cork City) & Sam Byrne (Dundalk)
A consistently in form goalscorer usually receives a move abroad from this league. This has resulted in a limited pick for the striker births. Murray looks set to pick up from a good goal return for Galway United last season while Cummins has started in great form this season. Both add different types of forward roles in the squad. Sam Byrne is a wildcard pick due to his inexperience in the league but is worth a shot as three strikers would be needed. However, he has shown his quality at underage level for Ireland and will add serious fire power to Dundalk’s attack if fit.
There are a lot of quality players left out of the squad above. Trevor Clarke, Aaron McEneff & Gearoid Morrissey are stand out players who did not make this squad,while Kevin Toner wil be an intriguing prospect at St. Patrick’s Athletic with his Premier League experience, while likes of Conan Byrne and Killian Brennan have experience in the domestic game, and obvious quality.
Meanwhile there is further experience and quality in Waterford with the likes of Paul Keegan, Kenny Browne & Dean O’Halloran shining early on in the season.
However, with the top clubs commanding better facilities and training time, the fitness levels and athleticism of the full-time clubs gives the players in the squad above an obvious advantage. Several other players from the top challengers could stake a claim in a home based international squad.