Thirty players were served notice for Ireland’s upcoming, week-long training camp and international friendly in Turkey later this month.
Martin O’Neill’s side travel to Antalya for a meeting with Turkey on 23 March, and the manager has named several uncapped and inexperienced international players in his provisional squad, which is likely to be narrowed down to 25 ahead of take-off.
The match, of course, will be Ireland’s first outing since their humiliating 5-1 defeat to Denmark back in November’s World Cup play-off, and O’Neill has chosen to hand youth its chance in a very refreshing squad announcement.
A large chunk of O’Neill’s experienced base have been omitted from this squad, whether through injury, club commitments or perhaps, imminent announcements of international retirement.
So the door is wide open for players to catch the manager’s attention and put in a performance that would see them continue in the squad for the more high-profile clash with France in May, where a more experienced squad will be utilised.
So let’s look at the uncapped seven players who will be out to impress in the upcoming Turkey trip.
Kieran O'Hara (Manchester United) With Keiren Westwood currently injured and Darren Randolph left out of the squad, there is every chance that the Manchester United youngster will see some action in the upcoming Turkey clash. Getting on the plane with the senior squad will be the first step of what might prove a very fruitful future with the Ireland side, and O’Hara (pictured below, right) will certainly be quite content to travel and train for the week under O’Neill guidance in Turkey.
O’Hara has yet to make his senior debut at Old Trafford but has enjoyed similar experiences, being named in travelling parties for Europa League encounters last season. The 6ft 3in keeper has had loan spells at Morecambe, twice, and Stockport County, and currently plays for the United reserves who are struggling in the Under-23 league.
Matt Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers) The former Bohemians defender is a fairly well established member of the Ireland senior squad, yet has not been capped. Doherty is flying with his club at the moment as Wolves close in on automatic Premier League promotion and is surely set to make his international bow in Turkey. Doherty has played all across the back line and currently plays on the right side of a four-man midfield in front of a back three, which allows the former Hibs loanee to get forward, while also maintaining his defensive mindset.
At 26, the Dubliner needs to make something happen on the international scene fairly soon to have a chance of getting involved in the Euro 2020 campaign. Seamus Coleman’s return will rule him out of that position, however, that versatility will stand in his favour as he will be able to play wherever asked by the gaffer.
Declan Rice (West Ham United) Enjoying a great season at his club, from a personal point of view, the 19-year-old has proven to be quite adept at playing at the highest level in England. Rice has shown maturity above his years with calm and composed play in the heart of the Hammers defence, not always helped by those around him as the east end of London club contain more than a couple of ‘characters’ in the squad.
Rice can play as a central defender or as a holding midfielder, sitting in front of the back four. The Ireland manager has named him as a defender in the provisional squad, which might indicate that he sees him as competition for Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy. Obviously still eligible to declare for England, however, the player appears committed to the Ireland cause and is happy to head back to the Under-21s following the week in Turkey. A manager’s dream, surely O’Neill is thinking that the Nations League games cannot come quick enough.
Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers) The 23-year-old signed for his current club as a schoolboy, having played with Belvedere in Dublin, back in 2011 when the Ewood Park club were still in the Premier League. A lot has changed at the Lancashire club since then as they have endured a downward spiral, falling through the Championship to League One, the third tier of English football.
The former Premier League champions are enjoying a renaissance of sorts and Lenihan is contributing to the cause, currently marshalling the central defensive position, while also able to slot in at midfield. Another whose versatility will appeal to the Ireland manager, Lenihan is one of those players that O’Neill will be anxious to get to know, while also letting him know that he is on the radar. Might be one of the five not to make it to Turkey when the final 25 are named, but the Dunboyne native will know that next year should bring Championship football and a constant international spotlight.
Derrick Williams (Blackburn Rovers) – The former Bristol City defender is another currently impressing with Blackburn. Williams often kept Greg Cunningham out of the team while both players were at Bristol City. Cunningham, of course, is now playing a tier above Williams at Preston North End and again they could be doing battle for a place on the plane to Turkey.
Born in Hamburg, while his American father was serving in the US Army, WIlliams' mother is Irish and the family settled in Waterford when the former Aston Villa youth was seven years old. The move to Ewood Park has really brought the best out of Williams and the defender was named the club's player of the year for the 2016-17 season.
Enda Stevens (Sheffield United) The former Shamrock Rovers defender made a dream move to Aston Villa back in 2012, following the Hoops historic season, qualifying for the Europa League group stage. Stevens eventually broke into the Villa side, however, by that stage, the Birmingham-based club were a bit of a shambles and soon fell out of the Premier League.
Stevens, soon after, began his journey on the road less travelled down through the football league divisions with spells at Notts County, Doncaster and Northampton, before finding a place to call home at Fratton Park with Portsmouth. Stevens shone on the south coast, albeit in League 2, and helped Pompey to promotion, before gaining a big move to Bramall Lane to join Sheffield United.
Even at Rovers, Stevens always looked like he should be playing in a more advanced position than his limiting left-back role and now the Dubliner has found a happy medium in a wing-back position for the Blades who are chasing promotion to the Premier League. Perhaps a natural competitor for the James McClean role on the left flank, Stevens may not possess the heart of the Derry native – who does? – however, his left foot can produce magic, which the front men would thrive from.
Liam Kelly (Reading) Another who has been on the international radar for a while, Kelly has matured into an established central midfielder playing for Jaap Stam’s Reading. Kelly has been named in provisional squads before but has yet to be capped with the senior side. Naturally, comparisons will be made with retiring Wes Hoolahan, and with good cause, as Kelly is a real ball-playing midfielder who can pick a pass, maintain possession and unlock defences with his accuracy and ability.
Perhaps a way off breaking into O’Neill’s starting XI, the manager will still be anxious to bring players of Kelly’s skill level into the squad to gain that familiarity and camp experience. Kelly made his name at underage international level with a wondergoal for the Ireland Under-19s against Sweden. Something similar in Turkey could catapult the 22-year-old right into the reckoning.