by Ed Leahy
Getting inside the brain of Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni is no mean feat, when it comes to selecting the starting XI for any international encounter.
However, after examining the final 23-man squad that was selected for Friday’s clash with Sweden and next week’s encounter with Austria, the wily old Italian has made it a little bit easier than expected…or so we think.
The (Likely) Starting XI:
David Forde (Millwall)
Forde has now established himself as the Ireland number one and is sure to start the Sweden clash. Not getting any competition from Keiren Westwood at present so should hold on to the number one jersey for the rest of the campaign barring a disaster in Sweden.
The former Derry City shot-stopper played the full match for Millwall at the weekend and kept another clean sheet for the Lions as they beat Charlton 2-0.
Seamus Coleman (Everton)
Named on the Premier League team of the week on Match of the Day, Coleman has made the right-back position his own thanks to recent performances for club and country.
The former Sligo Rovers defender will start at full back in Stockholm and is a vital cog in the defence that will need to keep an experienced Swedish attack quiet on Friday night.
Not much competition for Coleman’s place in the squad as John O’Shea appears to be picked as a centre-half and Stephen Kelly’s involvement is likely to be limited.
John O’Shea (Sunderland)
Playing week-in week-out for Sunderland at centre-half, O’Shea is set to start in the middle of defence in Stockholm. Played the entire game at the weekend as Sunderland drew with Norwich 1-1, but his club are far from safe and face a challenging few weeks at the business end of the Premier League season.
Despite the fact that he is a regular centre-half in the Premier League, there are still concerns over O’Shea in this position and might not be playing if Richard Dunne was available for selection.
Needs a commanding, no-nonsense centre-half alongside him to be effective at international level.
Sean St Ledger (Leicester City)
Returned to fitness just in time to be included in the squad for the two World Cup qualifies, St Ledger is back playing for Leicester and has played two full games inside the last seven days.
St Ledger played the full 90 minutes on Saturday as the Foxes were beaten 2-1 by Derby County, however, the former Preston defender played at right-back as opposed to the centre of defence.
One of those players that seems to be a Trapattoni favourite and is likely to return to the Ireland starting XI on Friday night, getting the nod just ahead of Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark.
Marc Wilson (Stoke City)
The fact that Stephen Ward or Greg Cunningham were not selected in Trapattoni’s 23-man squad would suggest that Wilson will slot back into the left-back position.
Wilson scored and impressed against the Faroes following the Germany debacle but then suffered the misfortune of breaking his leg in club match before Christmas.
Wilson has returned to the Stoke starting eleven and played a starring role in their trademark 0-0 draw with West Brom at the weekend. Wilson’s performance was also recognised by the MOTD panellists naming him in their team of the week.
The only twist is that he has been playing at centre-half since his return. But has anyone told Trapattoni?
Glenn Whelan (Stoke City)
Whelan has typified everything that Trapattoni stands for when it comes to selecting the Ireland team and the way they play. And in fairness to the Stoke City midfielder, he constantly does whatever he is told to the best of his ability.
Whelan only played the first half of the 0-0 with West Brom on Saturday after falling awkwardly just before the break but received a clean bill of health to meet up with his international team-mates.
That pile-driver against Italy seems like an awful long time ago now (October 2009). Perhaps Friday.
James McCarthy (Wigan Athletic)
After a shaky start to his Ireland career, McCarthy is now proving that he is one of the most exciting young midfielders in the Premier League and is set to be the foundation of the Ireland team for the foreseeable future.
McCarthy works hard in midfield when out of possession and is someone who can unlock a door or two with his vision and ability to pick a pass.
Played the full 90 on Sunday as Wigan beat Newcastle and is a key player as the Latics look to complete their annual Premier League Houdini act. McCarthy is virtually guaranteed to be starting in the middle of the park alongside Whelan on Friday.
James McClean (Sunderland)
With the retirement of Damien Duff, the absence of the injured Aiden McGeady and the demise of the lively Stephen Hunt, James McClean looks likely to be given the nod to play on the left side of midfield.
The only other viable option for Trapattoni is to take a chance on Robbie Brady, who has gained plenty of pitch-time in the green shirt since coming into the squad but hasn’t really done enough to stake a claim for a starting role in such an important match.
McClean’s club form has been mixed as a result of off-field antics, illness and an abundance of bench time, which has resulted in just three 15-minute cameos in the Black Cats’ last four league games.
McClean to start, but a decent first-half performance is needed or there might be changes at the break. Having said that, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Trapattoni picked Simon Cox in his place. Twitter beware.
Shane Long (West Bromwich Albion)
Another player to return from injury in time for selection, Long returned to the West Brom squad for Saturday’s clash with Stoke. Long was a substitute and came on after 76 minutes but looks set to start for Ireland in Sweden judging on the set-up of the squad, with the exclusion of Kevin Doyle.
Starting position might be the only query as Long could well be used on the right side of a four, or perhaps, five-man midfield. Other option would be to play off Robbie Keane but we will have to wait for the kick-off to work out what plan Senor Trapattoni has for the lively Baggies striker.
Should Conor Sammon or Andy Keogh start ahead of Long, it would confirm suspicions that the West Brom man is not fully appreciated by the manager.
Jon Walters (Stoke City)
Another utility man playing weekly for the Premier League’s equivalent of the Ireland international side, Walters is back leading the line in attack for Tony Pulis’ side and played the full 90 minutes in Saturday’s 0-0 with West Brom.
Like Shane Long, Walters’ role on Friday night will only be determined once the game has kicked off, but is likely to be leading the line alongside Robbie Keane.
Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
Skipper Keane will start on Friday night having joined up with the squad following his performance in Sunday’s MLS SuperClasico 1-1 draw with Chivas.
Keane failed to get on the score-sheet at the Home Depot Center, however, he did play the full ninety and that will be enough for Trapattoni. Walters or Long to start alongside Keane, but Wes Hoolahan just might get a decent run-out in the second half if Robbie is not creating chances.
Simon Cox (Nottingham Forest)
You just never know with the Ireland manager and the hard-working Forest man might just sneak in on the left-side of midfield. But surely Hoolahan is now ahead of him to play the second striker role. Cox was involved in the goal as Forest beat Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, playing 76 minutes before being subbed.
Paul Green (Leeds United)
Likely to get a run in midfield if the engine room is in need of some fresh legs. Green played 60 minutes of Leeds’ 2-1 defeat to Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield on Saturday.
Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)
You can shout as loud as you like but former Shelbourne favourite Hoolahan will not be starting on Friday night (barring a string of injuries).
His performance against Poland when coming off the bench must surely have convinced Trapattoni that Wes is the go-to man in Stockholm if Ireland need some creativity and/or someone to hold onto the ball.
Scored for Norwich in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Sunderland but was sacrificed by the manager after 31 minutes when goalkeeper Mark Bunn was sent off. Wes’ St Patrick’s Day jig, goal celebration won’t have the cast of Riverdance overly concerned.
Conor Sammon (Derby County)
The former UCD and Derry City striker has obviously impressed the manager enough to have made the final cut of 23, relegating stalwart Kevin Doyle to the stand-by list.
Sammon will hustle and bustle all day long and will occupy a defender or two should he get a run, which will create a bit of space for Ireland’s midfield to run into.
But a late substitute appearance is probably the best that Sammon can hope for in Stockholm. Played the full 90 for Derby on Saturday in their victory over Leicester, but failed to get on the score-sheet.
Andy Keogh (Millwall)
Surprisingly called into the 23 after failing to make the initial 29-man squad. Probably called up as cover after McGeady withdrew through injury, but unlikely to be involved on Friday. Spent Saturday afternoon warming the bench as Millwall beat south London rivals Charlton 2-0.
Jeff Hendrick (Derby County)
Made an instant impression in the green shirt coming on to set up Wes Hoolahan’s goal in the friendly win over Poland.
However, Hendrick is probably just content to have made the final 23, which shows that the manager sees him as one for the future. Might get a run late on if the manager is in need of a bit of magic from midfield.
Another 90 minutes under the belt at club level on Saturday as Derby beat Leicester 2-1.
Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)
The Aston Villa ever-present will probably give Trapattoni his biggest team-selection headache, however, Sean St Ledger’s return to fitness is probably going to relegate Clark to a place on the bench on Friday night.
Trapattoni sees potential in Clark, yet it is hard to judge whether he has made the grade as a Premier League centre-half due to the calamitous back-four performances that he has been a part of for a struggling Villa side.
A poor show in defence on Friday should put Clark into contention for a start at the Aviva on Tuesday night. Clark played the full ninety on Saturday as Villa edged towards safety beating fellow strugglers QPR 3-2.
Robbie Brady (Hull City)
Brady’s move to Hull City has seen the skilful left-sided player get plenty of first-team football and has justified his decision to leave Manchester United.
Hasn’t set the world alight with his international performances thus far but is certainly in Trapattoni’s thoughts for that left-midfield berth.
Could get a second-half outing in Stockholm and his ability from dead-ball situations could be a deciding factor when it comes to his involvement in these qualifiers. Played the full 90 minutes for Hull in Saturday’s defeat to Nottingham Forest.
Stephen Kelly (Reading)
Unlikely to be used in Sweden, however, Kelly can fill a gap anywhere along the back four and that is enough reason to build bridges and keep him involved in the Ireland squad. Played 88 minutes as Reading were beaten 1-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Darren O’Dea (Toronto)
Rebuilding his club career across the Atlantic at Toronto, O’Dea is appreciated by Trapattoni but is surely the fourth favourite for the two central defensive positions. Injury or suspension could see him play a role in the Austria game.
O’Dea has played in all three MLS fixtures this season in the captain’s role, while the arrival of head coach Ryan Nelsen will surely improve the former Celtic defender as a player throughout the season.
Keiren Westwood (Sunderland)
Warming the bench all season at the Stadium of Light, Westwood has lost his place as Ireland number one, despite never having put a foot wrong when called upon.
An end-of-season move might be needed to re-ignite his fledgling international career. Was on the bench for Sunderland in Sunday’s clash with Norwich.
Darren Randolph (Motherwell)
Yet to get a chance to shine at international level, Randolph is making a name for himself in the SPL as a decent keeper, playing regularly for the Fir Park side. Will need an injury or suspension to jump into either of the top two positions.
The number one jersey is far from secure at the moment so the more squad time Randolph can acquire, the better the chance to impress Trap, as the manager is unlikely to be paying a visit north of Hadrian’s Wall anytime in the near future.
Randolph played the full match as Motherwell beat Pat Fenlon’s Hibs on Friday night to remain second in the SPL behind leaders Celtic.