It's becoming very hard to keep a lid on the hype around this Republic of Ireland Under-21 team.

Stephen Kenny is cultivating some exciting talent, and the swagger they're playing with is already starting to change the narrative around the seniors. 

"Maybe I should take a bit of credit for that, that I'm not taking them away from Stephen," Mick McCarthy bristled when asked about the U21s' win in Sweden after he'd watched his own team beat Bulgaria 3-1 in a friendly last night.

"I could have taken Troy, I could have taken Connolly, I could have taken the likes of Molumby. All I'd have done is weaken them. Listen, Stephen's got the best gig of all by the way.

"Stephen is in the background, he knows he's getting the job in how many days it is, and in the meantime he's building his own team. I sent him a text to say, 'you've got a good team'. And he has."

McCarthy probably feels a little aggrieved that so much positive attention is being thrown the way of the underage group when his own side are top of Group D and in with a real shot at automatic qualification for the Euros.

That's understandable, but it's a long time since Ireland had a wave of young footballers who are so easy on the eye, and the fact that a bold young manager will hold the keys to their progression has ramped the expectation up a few notches more.  

Kenny takes over from McCarthy in the summer of 2020 ahead of the autumn's Nations League games before beginning the 2022 World Cup qualification campaign in early 2021.

How will his Ireland team take shape? We take a look. 


The 32-year-old goalkeeper has proved himself to be a reliable, calming influence on this Irish side. He's got plenty of gas left in the tank too. Kenny has a batch of talented keepers coming through so this is an area Ireland are well stocked in.  It's a nice headache for the incoming manager, but it's extremely likely any of the young guns will dislodge Randolph for a while yet. He's been one of his country's best players over the last four years, and has at least one more full campaign in him.

The competition: Mark Travers (20), Kieran O'Hara (23) and Caoimhin Kelleher (20) are three fine young goalkeepers who, in time, will be jostling for the No 1 jersey. Bournemouth's Travers looks like he's leading the race at this point in time, with O'Hara on loan at Burton from Manchester United and Kelleher probably requiring a loan move from Liverpool himself to get first-team minutes. Behind them is Manchester City's Gavin Bazunu, who'll still only be 18 when Kenny comes in, while Brian Maher of St Pat's has been terrific for the Under-19s.  


The skipper is 30 now and an outstanding role model for any young pro coming into the panel. Coleman lost a year of his career due to the horrendous leg break he suffered against Wales in March, 2017 and though he may not possess quite the same dynamism he once did, the Donegal man remains a high-quality performer with the temperament to match.  

The competition: Lee O'Connor's move to Celtic could fast-track him into contention if the ex-Manchester United defender can force his way into Neil Lennon's side and build on his obvious promise. O'Connor looks wise beyond his years. He's tactically sound, comfortable in possession and mobile. He's versatile, and has played at centre-half and in the middle of the park, but Kenny has aired his belief that right-back is O'Connor's best position. 


Duffy has held the Irish rearguard together at times, not least against the Swiss in Dublin when the home midfield was occasionally overwhelmed by a swarm of runners from deep and the back four were on the brink of breaking point. At 27, he's only entering his prime and will always be a potent weapon from set-pieces. He'll remain a key man.

The competition: If Kenny is to blood one of his younger centre-half's then he'll need at least one seasoned campaigner in there to guide them through the choppy waters of international football so Duffy's competition is more likely to come from one of the old guard. Richard Keogh will be 34 next summer so his appearances may begin to dwindle, while Kevin Long (29) and John Egan (26) will both feel capable of adding to their caps tallies of 12 and five respectively.


Collins had to pull out of Kenny's Under-21s squad due to injury this month but the future is bright for the 18-year-old Stoke City centre-half. He made history by becoming the Potters' youngest ever captain in their Carabao Cup first-round win at Wigan in August and attracted interest from Manchester United earlier in the summer before Stoke tied him down to a new five-year contract. Capped for Ireland at U17 and U19 level, Kenny's been watching him for a while, saying recently: "He'll get plenty of opportunities. Nathan is a terrific prospect."

The competition: Dara O'Shea is another one who's turned heads in the Premier League. Bournemouth reportedly showed interest but he's remained at West Brom, where he's extremely highly thought of. A loan spell at Exeter City last season did wonders for the 20-year-old's development. He started in Sweden last night alongside ex-Liverpool prospect Conor Masterson, who needed a fresh start after opportunities ran dry at Anfield. His release from the Reds in early summer led to a move to QPR. Masterson has been an ever-present for Kenny's U21s but really needs to establish himself at the Championship club over the next year to harbour serious ambitions of breaking it to the senior set-up.


Stevens had a fairly rough time of it against the Swiss last week but that was a rare blemish on what's been an impressive renaissance for the ex-Shamrock Rovers left-back. His 2012 move from the LOI club to Aston Villa came, by his own admission, too early, and he had to step back to rebuild his career once things failed to take off at Villa Park. An impressive spell at Portsmouth turned Sheffield United's heads and having helped the Blades to promotion, Stevens, now 29, now looks far better equipped to cope with the incessant demands of Premier League football.  

The competition: Two Galway men are waiting in the wings for fresh chances with Ireland. Blackburn Rovers' Greg Cunningham is 28 now and has four caps to his name while Ryan Manning of QPR - five years younger - is another solid option. However it's Matt Doherty who will surely lead the competition here.The feeling lingers that Doherty's potential to be a quality international player simply hasn't been unlocked by either McCarthy or Martin O'Neill before him. Kenny, who said in his first press conference that he wants to bring "a more fluid and expansive" style to the side, may find a way to utilise him. Of the rising crop Southampton's Kameron Ledwidge - who had a fine tournament at the European Under-19 Championships - looks most promising.


The Sheffield United attacker looked out of sorts against Switzerland when asked to operate wide right but he's proved at club level he's more than capable of doing so to a high level - see his recent contribution to Sheffield United's impressive 2-2 draw at Chelsea. Robinson is a bag of tricks, one of the only players Ireland have right now that looks capable of doing something different. Now playing in the top flight and still just 24, there's scope for more improvement. 

The competition: Both Michael Obafemi and Jonathan Afolabi have the legs and the intelligence to operate wide, though again they would both prefer to play through the middle. 


Cullen made his first start for Ireland against Bulgaria and did nothing wrong in a neat and tidy display. On loan from West Ham at Charlton, who are second in the Championship, he's flourished under the watchful eye of Lee Bowyer. Kenny likes midfield operators who can stitch the play between defence and attack. It's something Cullen looks capable of, and his progress over the next two years will be interesting. 

The competition: Alan Judge just hasn't got the rub of the green with Ireland. He was playing out of his skin at Brentford in the run-up to Euro 2016 before he broke his leg, and, aged 30, may find his appearances become even more limited in the next 12 months. Luca Connell, 18, was drafted in to McCarthy's end-of-season training camp in Portugal and has since signed for Celtic. He's athletic and versatile - capable of filling in at full-back - with a good range of passing.


A man who defines the exuberance of Kenny's U21s. Currently on loan at Millwall from Brighton, he's a ball of energy, constantly demanding the ball and looking to make things happen. He injured his quad soon after heading for the Den and has been limited to just three appearances for the Lions this season. That needs to change if the 20-year-old is to take his enormous talent to the next level. Kenny loves him. 

The competition: Conor Hourihane is the senior man and has forced his way into McCarthy's preferred midfield trio alongside Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick. A crisp passer with a great left foot, he'll almost certainly start in Tblisi, though the intense competition for places at Aston Villa at the moment is a cause for concern. The incoming boss knows all about Jack Byrne. He was a breath of fresh air against Bulgaria and it's hard to imagine clubs across the water aren't looking at the Shamrock Rovers playmaker very closely.


He won his 50th cap against the Swiss and, at 27, still has a lot of good years ahead of him. Hendrick may need a move over the next 12 months if his struggles to break into Burnley's XI continue. McCarthy voiced his own concerns over the Dubliner's lack of minutes going into the Swiss clash so he'll either need to get back into Sean Dyche's side or consider heading for pastures new. 

The competition: Alan Browne is a proven goalscoring midfielder at Championship level but the Preston man said himself that he needs to do that at a higher level to get himself into this team. The Corkman is 24 so there's time to hone than knack he has of ghosting into the area. Harry Arter missed out on this month's qualifiers due to an ankle surgery. Now at Fulham, he needs a settled campaign to reassert his credentials as a dominant midfield presence. 


Connolly looks ready to take off. Named the Premier League 2 Player of the Year last season, he stepped into the Under-21s side for the Toulon Tournament and excelled, stayed on that upward trajectory when he returned to Brighton by making a first senior appearance off the bench at Manchester City, and then produced two sparkling displays for Kenny's men against Armenia and Sweden. Could well have featured for McCarthy in the Bulgaria game had the Under-21s not had such a crucial fixture. Kenny has shifted him to the left to accommodate the other attacking threats he has at his disposal but Connolly wants to play through the middle. That may come in time, but it's likely he'll start his senior career out wide.

The competition: Robbie Brady hasn't played this term after suffering a rib injury playing for Burnley at Port Vale in pre-season. He's close to a comeback and should be available for October. His adaptability - and the quality of that left peg - are an asset for any manager. James McClean remains a fan favourite but he may have a battle on his hands to keep the shirt if the younger man continues to thrive. Callum O'Dowda and Ronan Curtis are two who offer something different in that wide left role. O'Dowda is a cultured, a smart player who likes to drift inside, while Curtis is more in the mould of McClean - direct and pacey. 


The man of the moment. Parrott's rise is happening so fast that Kenny and McCarthy will both find it hard to cool the hype around the 17-year-old. The most exciting Irish striking prospect since Robbie Keane. Mauricio Pochettino is a huge fan, including him in his Champions League squad and name-checking the Dubliner on several times over the last 12 months. It feels like a first Spurs appearance is close, especially after his three-goal haul with the U21s over the last week. Physically and mentally mature, how Parrott deals with the attention that's swirling around him will be of crucial importance but so far nothing appears to have fazed the former Belvedere Boy. 

The competition: David McGoldrick hasn't put a foot wrong with Ireland, a hard-working and intelligent forward who does the dirty work with a touch of class. But he's 32 in November, and has a cluster of hungry prospects coming up behind him. Jonathan Afolabi was outstanding at the U19s Euros in the summer. He's followed O'Connor and Connell to Celtic and is a powerful, mobile threat up top. Sean Maguire, 25, has been cursed with injuries that have stunted his international development at crucial junctures but he's still young enough to prove he can score goals at this level. James Collins and Scott Hogan may find themselves surplus to requirement, while Shane Long is currently out in the cold and will need a late-career flourish to figure in the new regime.