After Martin O’Neill cut his squad down from 40 players to 33, preparations for the European Championships are set to go up a gear this week, as Ireland take on Switzerland on Good Friday and Slovakia four days later.
With that in mind, here is your comprehensive guide to how the Irish players abroad got on this weekend.
Good weekend: Jonathan Walters (Stoke City)
Jonathan Walters capped of a fine weekend by being named FAI player of the year. On Saturday, the Stoke forward scored his first goal in nine games after he replaced the injured Xherdan Shaqiri in Stoke’s starting line-up.
The 32-year-old also produced a contender for assist of the weekend as his delicate volley set up Joselu for Stoke’s second goal.
Bad weekend: Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)
Despite Norwich manager Alex Neil going for an attacking formation against West Brom, he opted to leave Wes Hoolahan on the bench as the Canaries claimed a pivotal win at the Hawthorns.
The Scot chose to go with two out-and-out strikers after Hoolahan had been criticised from certain sections of the Norwich support for what they perceive as laboured build-up play from the Irish midfielder, even though Hoolahan has provided eight assists and four goals in the league for the relegation-threatened side so far this season.
5 things we learned this week
1 Out of the 33-man Ireland squad to take on Switzerland and Slovakia in the friendlies, 24 started (73%), four came off the bench (Cyrus Christie, John O’Shea, Eunan O’Kane, James McClean) and five were unused substitutes (David Forde, Darren Randolph, Alex Pearce, David Meyler, Wes Hoolahan).
2 The decision to include Matt Doherty as a back-up to Stephen Ward in the final squad could result in Robbie Brady being played in his more favoured left-wing position, where he operated for Norwich at the weekend.
3 If the choice to omit Keiren Westwood is not due to injury or personal reasons, then the decision is one of the most controversial out of all the selections. Westwood has kept 10 clean sheets in his 28 Championship appearances so far this season while David Forde is second-choice for League One side Millwall. Forde has started only seven league games in this campaign resulting in just one clean sheet and has conceded 12 times in those matches.
4 Players who are in need of game time ahead of the European Championships have until Thursday to join a Football League club, thanks to the emergency window. The likes of Shay Given and Darron Gibson could join a Championship side for a period between 28 and 93 days.
5 There is life outside the UK for Irish strikers; Robbie Keane, Andy Keogh, Roy O’Donovan and Cillian Sheridan all scored for their various clubs at the weekend.
The weekend in numbers
Premier League: 10 starters
Goalkeepers (1): Rob Elliot (Newcastle United)
Defenders (3): Séamus Coleman (Everton), Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)
Midfielders (4): Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Harry Arter (Bournemouth), James McCarthy (Everton), Robbie Brady (Norwich City)
Forwards (2): Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Shane Long (Southampton)
Substitute appearances (4): John O’Shea (Sunderland), EunanO’Kane (Bournemouth), Stephen Ireland (Stoke City), James McClean (West Brom)
Unused substitutes (3): Darren Randolph (West Ham), Joey O’Brien (West Ham), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)
Goals (2): Robbie Brady (Norwich City), Jonathan Walters (Stoke City)
Championship: 21 starters
Goalkeepers (1): Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
Defenders (7): Stephen Kelly (Rotherham United), Richard Keogh (Derby County), Paul McShane (Reading), Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers), Stephen Ward (Burnley), Greg Cunningham (Preston), Matt Doherty (Wolves)
Midfielders (10): Jeff Hendrick (Derby County), Lee Frecklington (Rotherham United), Darren Potter (MK Dons), Stephen Gleeson (Birmingham City), DarraghLenihan (Blackburn Rovers), Alan McCormack (Brentford), Jonathan Douglas (Ipswich Town), Stephen Quinn (Reading) Alan Judge (Brentford), Aiden McGeady (Sheffield Wednesday)
Forwards (3): Anthony Pilkington (Cardiff City), Daryl Murphy (Ipswich Town), Leon Best (Rotherham United)
Substitute appearances (4): Cyrus Christie (Derby County), Joe Mason (Wolves), Eoin Doyle (Preston), Simon Cox (Reading)
Unused substitutes 7: Jack Bonham (Brentford), Paddy Kenny (Rotherham United), Joe Murphy (Huddersfield Town), Alex Pearce (Bristol City), Kevin Foley (Ipswich Town), Paul Green (Rotherham United), Sean Scannell (Huddersfield Town)
Goals (3): Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers), Leon Best (Rotherham United), Eoin Doyle (Preston)
Premier League round-up
Jonathan Walters scored his eighth goal of the season as Stoke City beat Watford 2-1 at Vicarage Road with a good finish after a fine move from the Potters. With Xherdan Shaqiri missing, Walters started his first game since 2 March and also provided an assist with a delightfully struck pass to set up Joselu to double Stoke’s advantage, something Danny Murphy on Match of the Day didn’t believe the Irish striker meant to do.
One of the passes of the season. Cheers Danny 👊🏼 @BBCMOTD— Jonathan walters (@JonWalters19) 20 March 2016
Glenn Whelan continued his run of starting every Premier League game for Stoke this season, with Shay Given and Marc Wilson still sidelined.
Séamus Coleman and James McCarthy started for a listless Everton side that lost 2-0 at home at Arsenal. Despite Gareth Barry being suspended there was still no place in the matchday squad for Darron Gibson. The former Manchester United midfielder was cut from the Ireland squad as Martin O’Neill trimmed his squad down. Gibson hasn’t featured in the league since 12 December when he came off the bench against Norwich, having not started in the Premier League this season.
Darren Randolph and Joey O’Brien were on the West Ham United bench as the Hammers were pegged back by a late Chelsea equaliser. O’Brien has again faced an injury-plagued campaign, having not played in the Premier League this season, with his seven appearances coming in the Europa League qualifiers and the FA Cup.
Despite being on the losing side, Damien Delaney put in an impressive performance against title-chasing Leicester City. The Irish defender very nearly capped of a fine performance against his former club with a goal but his volley smashed against the crossbar. That match was Delaney’s 24th start in the Premier League this season; no other Irish defender has more.
At The Hawthorns, Robbie Brady returned from injury to score Norwich’s winner against West Brom. That was the Dubliner’s third Premier League goal of the season, equalling his best-ever tally in the top flight.
Brady operated further forward, playing on the left wing and that decision paid dividends as the Canaries secured their first win in 11 league games. The goal from the 24-year-old was the only shot on target in the game, and was later substituted as a precaution. Wes Hoolahan was an unused substitute. It was the first time since the start of February Hoolahan has not been involved for Norwich when he has been fit. James McClean came on for West Brom just after the hour mark. The former Derry City winger has not started for the Baggies since their defeat to Reading in the FA Cup last month.
Aston Villa’s miserable run continued as Remi Garde’s side lost 1-0 away to Swansea. Ciaran Clark started for the Championship-bound side, his third start in the last four games and his 12th start overall in the Premier League this season.
Shane Long started for Southampton as the Saints came from 2-0 down to beat Liverpool 3-2 at St Mary’s. The Irish striker provided the assist for Graziano Pellè’s equaliser; it was his first assist in the league this season in his 17th start.
Rob Elliot started in goal for Newcastle United as the Magpies struck a late equaliser against Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby. The Irish goalkeeper made a fantastic one-handed save to deny Patrick van Aanholt from doubling Sunderland’s advantage early in the second half.
Great come back second half and unbelievable atmosphere especially when mitro scored. Need to take positives and keep pushing on. #nufc— Robert Elliot (@the_dilsh) 20 March 2016
John O’Shea came on for the injured Younès Kaboul with just over 15 minutes remaining but couldn’t prevent Rafa Benitez’s team from equalising. However, the Waterford man has extended his unbeaten run against Newcastle to 21 games, a Premier League record for any player against any opponent.
Another Irish player returning from injury this weekend was Harry Arter and the Irish midfielder started in Bournemouth’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday but was replaced at half-time by Eunan O’Kane with the score at 2-0.
The Championship round-up
Cyrus Christie was dropped to the bench as Derby County beat Nottingham Forest 1-0 in the East Midlands derby. The right-back did come on in stoppage time to join his Irish teammates Richard Keogh and Jeff Hendrick who both started for the Rams. Christie had started Derby’s previous 13 matches since being rested for the FA Cup third-round match against Hartlepool United. It was revealed last week that Andy Reid has accepted a coaching role at Forest until the end of the season after the sacking of manager Dougie Freedman. It’s not known when Reid will return from injury.
Keiren Westwood and Aiden McGeady both started for Sheffield Wednesday in their 3-0 victory over Championship strugglers Charlton Athletic. However, the Everton loanee was substituted at half-time with the game scoreless. The Ireland midfielder has been taken off in each of the six matches he has started for the Owls and it was the second time he was replaced at half-time. Stephen Henderson was missing for Charlton.
Shane Duffy smashed home a late winner as 10-man Blackburn Rovers claimed a rare away victory at Brentford.It was the Irish defender’s third goal of the season as the Bees lost their seventh match out of the last eight.
Darragh Lenihan also started for Paul Lambert’s side as the sprightly midfielder picked up his eighth booking in his last 13 games.
Alan McCormack started alongside Alan Judge for Brentford with the latter hoping to make his debut for Ireland in the upcoming friendlies.
Bolton Wanderers’ problems continue to mount despite Neil Lennon leaving the Trotters last week, as they lost 6-0 away at Bristol City, who had Alex Pearce on the bench. The former Celtic manager won just four games out of the 37 Championship matches he presided over this season.
It was the battle of the Irish left-backs at Turf Moor as Stephen Ward’s Burnley came up against Matt Doherty’s Wolves. Doherty, who can also operate as a right-back, could be in line to win his first senior Irish cap after impressing in recent weeks for Wolves after starting the last 18 games for his club. Joe Mason came on as a late substitute as Wolves claimed a stoppage-time equaliser in the 1-1 draw.
Stephen Gleeson, who was last capped by Ireland in 2007 as Steve Staunton’s side ended the season with friendlies against Ecuador and Bolivia, started as Birmingham City drew 1-1 at home to Fulham to dampen Birmingham’s prospect of reaching the play-offs.
Goalkeeper Joe Murphy and midfielder Sean Scannell remained on the Huddersfield bench as the Terriers came from behind to thrash Leeds United 4-1 at Elland Road. After claiming last weekend’s winner against Bolton, there can be no doubts this weekend that Eoin Doyle’s late equaliser against QPR will go down as a goal for the Irish striker. It was left-back Greg Cunningham who set up Doyle for the substitute to nod in a fine header in the second minute of stoppage-time at the end of the match.
Alan Browne, who has signed a new contract with Preston until the summer of 2019, missed the game through injury. He was named FAI U21 player of the year at last night’s award ceremony.
Three Irish players included in Martin O’Neill’s streamlined Ireland squad started at the Madejski Stadium as Reading played out a 1-1 draw with Cardiff City. Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn both started for the Royals, with Quinn being replaced by Simon Cox late on. Anthony Pilkington, who has been in fine form playing as a striker, failed to add to the eight goals he has already scored this season. The 27-year-old will be looking to play for Ireland for the first time since November 2014, when he scored in the 4-1 friendly win over the USA.
Richie Towell was again left out of the Brighton matchday squad as Chris Hughton’s side claimed a precious win over MK Dons to remain in the automatic promotion places. Darren Potter started for the MK Dons, as they missed a late penalty to equalise against the Seagulls. Samir Carruthers was suspended for the game by the club for relieving himself into a glass at the Cheltenham Festival.
David Meyler was left out of the Hull City matchday squad as they lost 1-0 away to promotion rivals Middlesbrough on Friday night. He has not featured for the Tigers since gifting Arsenal the opening goal in the FA Cup fifth-round replay at the start of the month.
At Portman Road, Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town fell to a shock defeat to Rotherham United thanks to a goal from last week’s hero, Leon Best.
Neil Warnock also started with Stephen Kelly and Lee Frecklington for the Millers, while Ipswich had both Jonathan Douglas and Daryl Murphy in their starting line-up. Despite beating Blackburn in midweek thanks to a brace from Murphy, including an excellent finish below, the Tractor Boys failed to carry that momentum in to Saturday’s game.
League One round-up
Paddy Madden hit the magical 20-goal mark for the season with a cool finish as his Scunthorpe United side drew 1-1 with Chesterfield.
Former Galway United winger Jay O’Shea set up the equaliser for Chesterfield with a low cross in the second half.
Chris Forrester made his 26th start in League One for Peterborough United as the Posh claimed a late victory at Doncaster Rovers.
Conor Hourihane provided his 10th assist in the league this season as Barnsley won 2-0 at Fleetwood Town. Only Bradford City’s Tony McMahon on 11 has more in the division.
David Forde was once again on the Millwall bench as the Lions beat Sheffield United 1-0. The Irish goalkeeper’s last performance came in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy against Oxford United in which he made this howler below.
Ian Lawlor was missing as for Bury as they drew 2-2 with Shrewsbury Town while Owen Garvan helped opened the scoring for Colchester United, but his assist couldn’t prevent his side which are rooted at the bottom of the table from losing to Walsall.
League Two round-up
James Collins, who was also involved in the controversial incident at the Cheltenham Festival last week, scored for Northampton Town as the Cobblers came from two goals down to win 3-2 at Stevenage to retain their commanding lead at the top of League Two. That was his 14th goal of the season.
Midfielder John-Joe O'Toole also scored for the League Two leaders, his acrobatic finish was his 11th strike in the league this season.
Kerry native Brendan Moloney provided the assist deep into stoppage-time as Northampton sealed victory. Ireland U21 striker Callum O’Dowda scored twice for Oxford United to increase their chances of playing in League One next season. A 3-0 win at Barnet leaves the U’s six points clear of the play-off places.
Former Arsenal trainee Rhys Murphy scored from close range as AFC Wimbledon kept their promotion hopes alive with a 2-1 win against York City.
Goalkeeper Barry Roche was sent off as Morecambe lost away to Kevin Nolan’s Leyton Orient. Roche was sent off early on for tripping Orient striker Jay Simpson in the box. The resulting penalty however was saved by the substitute goalkeeper before an own goal condemned the Shrimps to defeat.
Outside of the Football League, Pádraig Amond scored his 31st and 32nd goals of the season to help book Grimsby a place in the FA Trophy final in Wembley.
Wembley here we come 😝😝😝🙌🏻🙌🏻— Padraig Amond (@padraigamond21) 19 March 2016
Rest of the World
In Scotland, Jonny Hayes who made the cut for this month’s friendlies, started as Aberdeen lost ground on league leaders Celtic after the Dons lost 2-1 away at Motherwell. Adam Rooney missed the match through injury.
Darren O’Dea started for Dundee as they threw away a two-goal lead against city rivals Dundee United, after having their goalkeeper sent off.
In the Scottish Championship, Anthony Stokes added another goal to the brace he scored in midweek to put Hibernian ahead against Raith Rovers, but his strike wasn’t enough for Hibs who lost the game 2-1.
Rob Kiernan started for Rangers but his side let an early two-goal lead slip away at Falkirk. Goalkeeper Danny Rogers, on loan from Aberdeen was in goal for the Bairns.
In Holland, Jack Byrne started his 20th game in the Eredivisie as his struggling Cambuur side remain bottom of the table after losing 1-0 at home to Roda. Striker Cillian Sheridan scored his 13th league goal of the season as Omonia Nicosia beat NeaSalamina 2-1 on Saturday.
Andy Keogh’s hot streak in the A-League shows no sign of stopping as he notched his seventh goal in as many games as Perth Glory beat Wellington Phoenix. Also in Australia, Roy O’Donovan scored his first goal in five matches for Central Coast Mariners as they drew 2-2 with Sydney FC.
In MLS, Robbie Keane scored his second penalty in three games after he was tripped in the box,as the Galaxy beat 10-man San Jose.
Kevin Doyle started for Colorado Rapids as they drew 1-1 with DC United but is still waiting for his first goal of the season while Sean St Ledger wasn’t included in the matchday squad due to injury.
Team of the Weekend (4-4-2):
Rob Elliot (Newcastle United); Stephen Kelly (Rotherham United), Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers), Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace), Greg Cunningham (Preston North End), Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), Robbie Brady (Norwich City); Shane Long (Southampton), Cillian Sheridan (Omonia Nicosia)