by Ed Leahy
The EURO 2012 countdown has officially begun and excitement is building as we await the announcement of Giovanni Trapattoni’s 23-man squad next Monday at Aviva Stadium.
Over the next few days we’re going to have a look at the players in contention to make it onto that plane to Poland. So first up, the goalkeepers.
Three of the Republic of Ireland’s 23-man squad will be goalkeepers. A relatively new initiative from FIFA, the 23rd position gave countries the luxury of an extra shot-stopper, allowing for the unlikely scenario where two keepers would be either injured or suspended.
Former Ireland striker, Niall Quinn was often considered the extra keeper in the squad, while some countries tried to get around the rule by naming an extra striker as the third-choice keeper.
The current rule states that all three named can only play in goal and cannot be used as outfield players. There’s no doubt about who Ireland’s number one for Poland will be but who else is going to EURO 2012?
Ireland’s number one for over ten years, Shay Given has never been seriously challenged as first choice keeper, despite Dean Kiely’s best efforts when the Ireland squad boasted two of the English Premier League’s best goalkeepers.
The Aston Villa man is one of the few Irish squad members with the experience of playing in a major international tournament as Given played in all Ireland’s matches at the 2002 World Cup.
After a disruptive end to his club career at Manchester City, where Given was kept on the bench for a season by Joe Hart, the Donegal man is now back playing regular club football, where he is almost single handedly keeping Aston Villa’s head above the troubled waters of the Premier League relegation zone.
The Lifford native missed six weeks of the season with a hamstring injury but has been an ever-present for Villa since returning in January.
Given made his senior debut way back in 1996 and 121 caps later, the former Newcastle shot-stopper looks like he can hold that Ireland jersey as long as he likes. Expect Given to play every minute of Ireland’s three group games, and beyond.
Verdict: First-class seat with added legroom for Ireland’s number one
After securing his Premier League move to Sunderland and having amassed eight international caps, Westwood has established himself as Shay Given’s official understudy in the international team.
Westwood’s three previous years with Coventry City earned him rave reviews as he became a regular member of successive Ireland squads.
And his maiden season at Sunderland got off to a great start as he soon claimed the number one jersey. And a string of fine performances, including a quality display against Manchester United, would have had Shay Given looking over his shoulder as Ireland secured qualification to EURO 2012.
However, an injury and a change of manager has seen Westwood spend the second half of the 2011-12 season on the bench. Worryingly for Westwood at club level, Craig Gordon started for Sunderland at the weekend.
But with Sunderland’s season effectively over, Martin O’Neill might just be as likely to give the Ireland keeper a run out for either or both remaining fixtures.
Verdict: Pack your bags, but be prepared to spend the tournament warming up Shay and watching on from the bench.
The 6ft 5inch Cork native first appeared on the international radar with Birmingham City as they secured promotion to the Premier League back in 2007.
Doyle was first choice keeper at the start of the following season in the Premier League but soon lost the jersey to Maik Taylor who, along with Joe Hart, kept Doyle on the sidelines for the remainder of City’s Premier League tenure.
He signed a one-year contract extension following City’s relegation to the Championship and has seen a revival of fortunes in the 2011-12 season under the management of former Ireland international Chris Hughton.
Doyle played the last four games as Birmingham number one, with the Blues staying unbeaten and securing their spot in the play-offs.
And Doyle’s clean sheet against champions Reading on Saturday, which included a penalty save from fellow Irishman Ian Harte, may just give Giovanni Trapattoni food for thought ahead of the squad announcement.
If Doyle can keep the number one jersey and impress in the play-offs he may find himself in Trap’s plans sooner rather than later.
Verdict: Staying home. Four league appearances are unlikely to change Trapattoni’s mind at this stage.
Former Derry City keeper David Forde has steadily improved and proved himself as a solid and reliable shot-stopper and has recently been rewarded with several calls into the senior squad.
Now playing his football at Millwall, following two relatively unsuccessful seasons at Cardiff City, Forde has established himself as the Lions number one and had 27 league appearances throughout last season.
Forde missed a chunk of the 2011-12 season with a thigh injury and finished the season on the bench with Northern Ireland international Maik Taylor impressing.
Taylor kept the Galway man out of the team for the last ten league games as Millwall moved out of relegation trouble to secure their Championship place finishing 16th, 17 points clear of the drop and 18 away from the play-offs.
Forde has two caps after playing against Northern Ireland in the Carling Nations Cup and in the friendly victory over Italy last June. Ireland won 2-0 against Trapattoni’s countrymen and Forde’s clean sheet and impressive performance will probably see him on the plane to Poland next month.
Verdict: About 75 per cent certain of making the squad so make sure that passport is valid, but will be third-choice keeper and unlikely to see any action in Poland.
Having played at every level for Ireland from schoolboy to Under-21 and B level, the Motherwell keeper is knocking on the door of the Ireland senior squad after receiving a call-up for the EURO 2012 qualifier against Macedonia and also the Carling Nations Cup games against Northern Ireland and Scotland.
At club level, Randolph has now established himself as number one at Fir Park and has played all season as Motherwell, currently third behind Rangers and Celtic and pushing for European and potential Champions League football next season.
EURO 2012 will probably come just too soon for the Bray native to secure a place on the plane to Poland but if Trapattoni is looking for a keeper with a full season under his belt, then Randolph might just get that nod as third-choice stopper.
Verdict: Randolph is unlikely to get the call this time and may need a move from Motherwell to England’s Premier League or Championship to get serious international recognition.
Possibly Ireland’s second best keeper playing at the moment, and like Dean Kiely, Paddy Kenny would have won lots more international caps had it not been for Shay Given’s dominance in the number one jersey.
Personal problems were well documented during his latter days at Sheffield United, while a playing ban also added to the end of Kenny’s international career.
Kenny, however, has enjoyed a renaissance at club level helping QPR reach the promised land of the Premier League. Keeping Rangers in the top tier has proved more difficult, although through no fault of his own.
At 33 Kenny could certainly still do a job for Trap and fans might still be more confident seeing the QPR keeper stepping into Given’s position should injury or suspension befall Ireland’s all-time number one. But it’s not going to happen.
The Verdict: Enjoy the summer break, Paddy. It’s looking like the Championship again next year.
Best of the rest:
Former Bohemians and Ipswich Town keeper Brian Murphy looked to have worked his way into Trapattoni’s thoughts and a Premier League move to QPR could have taken Murphy to the next level.
Paddy Kenny’s form has kept Murphy quiet this year, limiting his first team action to one Carling Cup appearance so the 28-year-old will be looking ahead to the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Joe Murphy has played all season for Coventry City but will now find himself playing League One football as the Sky Blues finished second last and were relegated from the Championship.
And while 23-year-old Stephen Henderson, on loan at West Ham from Portsmouth, was called into the senior squad for Ireland’s most recent international against the Czech Republic, he is unlikely to be considered for this summer’s tournament despite impressing all season with troubled Portsmouth. At 6ft 4inches, Henderson is definitely one for the future.