With Seamus Coleman ruled out for a minimum of six months, the Ireland captain looks certain to miss the remainder of the World Cup qualifying campaign.
Leaders will need to step up in the Everton man’s absence as the road to Russia intensifies. Cyrus Christie is likely to fill in for Coleman positionally but the armband will also be passed to a new owner for the remaining games.
Let’s assess the possible candidates to lead Ireland for the next few months…
Ireland’s long term vice captain, O’Shea has always lead with or without the armband when wearing the green jersey. Captain at Sunderland and with 117 caps to his name, O’Shea is the natural candidate. However, the successful partnership of Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark at the centre of the Irish defence could mean that O’Shea will feature mainly on the bench going forward. Thus, another player might have to step up to the plate.
Whelan has worn the armband several times in the past when either Robbie Keane, O’Shea or Coleman have been off the pitch. Approaching 10 years in the Ireland set-up and an excellent communicator on the pitch, Whelan will be one of the favourites to fill in for Coleman. Whelan has also captained Stoke on many occasions and even wore the armband for Sheffield Wednesday in his early 20’s.
Another man that has been a stand out captain at club-level, veteran Hoolahan is expected to return for the qualifier against Austria having missed out against Wales. A softly spoken but influential player, Hoolahan has a wealth of experience and is well respected in the camp. Has yet to captain Ireland but is certainly a candidate.
Walters has captained Ireland in friendly matches and has the passion and influence required to lead his country. Like Whelan, Walters has captained Stoke on occasions and was Ipswich Town’s club captain before he departed for the Potters in 2010. Never lets himself or his team down on the pitch and will be one of the favourites to stand in for Coleman.
Certainly an outside bet but deserves a mention. McClean is one of Ireland’s great leaders and most passionate players. He would certainly be a fan’s favourite and his game could thrive even further should he be given the responsibility. However, McClean has yet to captain any side and may serve Ireland better if his sole responsibility is his own game, whichhas lit up this qualifying campaign.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena