The winds of change continue to blow around Stephen Kenny's Republic of Ireland, bringing opportunity for some and cold disappointment for others.

Michael Obafemi and Aaron Connolly were, according to the manager, left out of from his latest squad due to hamstring and heel concerns respectively, but the exclusion of Jamie McGrath was down to ruthless pragmatism.

"It’s a tough call as he's been really excellent for us, but his move [from St Mirren to Wigan Athletic] hasn’t gone to plan for him," said Kenny.

"He’s not been featuring for Wigan and even been omitted from the squad on occasions.

"My concern is not that he hasn’t been playing recently, but going forward he may not play between now and June [when the Nations League campaign starts]. So if I included him here, he may not play for six months, and I haven’t looked at how the other players in our squad do."

That thought process explains why Connor Ronan and Mark Sykes get their shot. Ronan has been flying for McGrath's old club St Mirren while former Northern Ireland underage international Sykes has been quietly impressing for a while with Oxford United in League One.

He declined a call-up to Northern Ireland's senior panel in 2019 because he was desperate to represent the Republic. His patience has been rewarded.

"It gives us an opportunity to look at Mark and Connor at close quarters in the senior international squad ahead of the Nations League and increases the options in those positions," Kenny explained.

"We have, obviously, goalkeeping positions where we're overloaded with players there who can go straight into the team, centre-backs... but those sort of advanced, wider 10s, there's competition for places in those areas and we're looking to increase that. Connor and Mark offer us options in that regard."

Familiar faces like Scott Hogan, Dara O'Shea and Darragh Lenihan reappear but Kenny's commitment to enhancing his panel with fresh ability and versatility continues, though he did stress: "There will be less experimentation [against Belgium and Lithuania].

"In an ideal world it would be minimal, but you'll be presented with challenges where you have to take the best decisions based on getting the best squad for June."

There's also a new addition to the back-room incoming. Anthony Barry's departure to Belgium, who arrive at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week, is a blow to Ireland; his impact over the last year can't be overstated.

Just who Kenny gets to replace him will be intriguing. Barry came in for Damien Duff in February 2021 and energised the players with his ideas, vibrant coaching and set-piece expertise. He leaves big shoes to fill.

"There is progress [on finding Barry's replacement]," confirmed Kenny. "I would ideally like to have had that sorted this morning and announce it today. Hopefully it will be announced in the next couple of days, there are a few issues to finalise."

Belgium have adopted a policy of using players who have 50 caps or less for friendlies this year as they look to improve their squad depth for the Qatar World Cup in December, so their squad - which was announced on Friday lunchtime - is shorn of household names like Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.

Still, they possess plenty of other very decent players who will be hungry to show Roberto Martinez they are worthy of being included in his long-term plans.

Kenny added: "They have a formidable team. Jason Denayer and Dedrick Boyata have played in major tournaments for them. They said they aren't including anyone with 50 caps but they have named players with 47, 48.

"[Youri] Tielemans is a much sought after player. They have three players for one centre-forward positison - Benteke, Origi, and Batshuayi. And Doku, who is a future star. They are a top-class international team.

"They are world number one for a reason, and have a conveyor belt and strength in depth that’s admirable."


Republic of Ireland squad for friendlies v Belgium & Lithuania

Goalkeepers: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Portsmouth, on loan from Manchester City), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth)

Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Nathan Collins (Burnley), Dara O'Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers).

Midfielders: Conor Hourihane (Sheffield United, on loan from Aston Villa), Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (QPR, on loan from Newcastle United), Jayson Molumby (West Bromwich Albion, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Jason Knight (Derby County), Mark Sykes (Oxford United).

Forwards: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Troy Parrott (MK Dons, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), Will Keane (Wigan Athletic), Scott Hogan (Birmingham City), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United), Connor Ronan (St Mirren, on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers).


Belgium squad

Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels; Thomas Kaminski; Simon Mignolet and Matz Sels

Defenders: Sebastiaan Bornauw, Dedryck Boyata, Jason Denayer, Wout Faes, Arthur Theate and Siebe Van der Heyden

Wing Backs: Thomas Foket; Thorgan Hazard and Alexis Saelemaekers

Midfielders: Leander Dendoncker, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Orel Mangala, Youri Tielemans and Hans Vanaken

Forwards: Michy Batshuayi, Christian Benteke, Charles De Ketelaere, Jeremy Doku, Adnan Januzaj, Divock Origi, Leandro Trossard, Yari Verschaeren and Dante Vanzeir.