The honeymoon period for Stephen Kenny would appear to have been a short one given the social media commentary to the Nations League performance to Bulgaria and Finland.
This is where the crunch fixtures are as the Republic of Ireland look to secure a road trip win to Slovakia in the European Championship playoff and thereafter are more Nations Cup games against Wales (H) and Finland (A).
The words minimum change come to mind. Kenny has resisted the urge to make sweeping changes and has included currently injured Robbie Brady and Callum O’Dowda in the squad. Time will tell if they will be in the travelling party to Slovakia.
The marquee headline is the inclusion of Jack Byrne to the senior squad after been omitted for the opening Nations League fixtures. The player has been a standout for Shamrock Rovers this season and his cameo against Dundalk last weekend meant that he could not be left out.
Whether Byrne gets game time is an entirely different story. Will Kenny look to use the player in the closing stages of games to provide that creativity, something different to unlock the opposition defense? It is an interesting subplot.
Derrick Williams comes into the squad. A player who has started the season with Blackburn Rovers with assured performances alongside Darragh Linehan. Blackburn Rovers have kept clean sheets in consecutive games and Williams / Linehan has been a huge factor. Game time looks limited though with Egan, Duffy locked on for central defensive spots.
Squad / Initial Thoughts
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (West Ham United), Mark Travers (Bournemouth), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool).
No surprises here. Randolph is the number one. His performances in the Nations League were good. Travers to provide cover. Kelleher needs to consider game time away from Liverpool realistically to be in this squad.
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Shane Duffy (Celtic, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), Derrick Williams (Blackburn Rovers).
The big question here is where does Seamus Coleman slot into the side? His form with Everton has been sensational. Ancelotti was in full praise of the Donegal native after Everton’s win at the weekend. Captain fantastic but his form has been superb and warrants starting lineup inclusion. Kenny has a decision to make.
Doherty has had an indifferent start to his Tottenham career. We know his skill set so will surely be included for Slovakia. The question though is whether Doherty should push on further into midfield? Will Kenny go a 3-5-2 formation to accommodate both Coleman and Doherty.
Midfielders: James McCarthy (Crystal Palace), Harry Arter (Nottingham Forest), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Jayson Molumby (Brighton and Hove Albion), Robbie Brady (Burnley), Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers).
We are no clearer to knowing the thought process of Stephen Kenny and coaching staff on this unit. Two performances where the midfield balance was lacking in those Nations League fixtures. Finland exposed our technical ability at various times in this area; opening up our defensive line in the process. No one put the hand up for selection in this playoff fixture.
Club form suggests that Hendrick is a lock. Hourihane surely is a lock given his long range shooting and set piece delivery. Arter potentially in a three man central midfield? Molumby has yet to break into the Brighton first team. Browne has struggled for form with PNE. McCarthy has started the season with solid performances for Palace but his fitness is concerned.
Forwards: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City), James McClean (Stoke City), Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), Adam Idah (Norwich City), David McGoldrick (Sheffield United), Shane Long (Southampton).
Who leads the line against Slovakia? Idah got the nod in the Nations League games but found international football a tough assignment. McGoldrick looks primed for the target man role particularly against Slovakia.
Connolly, Robinson are showing good club form so presume both will feature here. McClean has started the season well for Stoke City and is another option for Kenny to select. O’Dowda injured currently, showed precious little in recent games and zero relationship with Matt Doherty.
Hawkeye Sidekick Selection: 5-3-2 (excluding Brady and O’Dowda due to injury)
GK – Randolph
DF – Doherty, Coleman, Duffy, Egan, Stevens
MF – Hendrick, McCarthy, Hourihane
F- Connolly (roving role to create behind McGoldrick)
F – McGoldrick (target man)