AN EXPERIMENTAL IRISH team take on Oman at Craven Cottage tonight.
The squad at Giovanni Trapattoni’s disposal is considerably understrength due to both forced and unforced withdrawals and while some will look upon the game as a pointless non-event, it could be the perfect opportunity for the next generation to show off their potential.
After Euro 2012 began and ended in humbling defeats, there has been growing unrest among fans and increased calls for change – both of personnel on the pitch and the managerial team.
With a lucrative contract taking him up to the World Cup in 2014 and the FAI currently under significant financial pressure, however, the likelihood is that the Italian boss will remain at the helm for the remainder of the current campaign.
So, with exactly a month before international heavyweights Germany arrive in Dublin for the second of our World Cup qualifiers, tonight represents a last chance to evaluate several players in a starting line-up is unrecognisable to the one which lined out against Kazakhstan in Astana.
Which fringe players can make an impression?
The likes of Seamus Coleman, Marc Wilson David Meyler and James McCarthy have long been touted as the future of Irish football and it is unquestionably a big night for the quartet, who will all feature from the start.
Former Sligo Rovers defender Coleman was around several squads during the last campaign but Trap has been unwilling to trust the Everton player at full-back until now. A solid performance tonight could see the 23-year-old move up the pecking order as genuine competition for the right-back berth.
Wilson, who plies his trade at Stoke, can play in a number of positions and should be an ever-present on the squad sheet but has regularly left out. It looked like he was being frozen out for disciplinary reasons when Trap mysteriously questioned his behaviour earlier this year but he finds himself on the left side of defence – a position where we are lacking in options right now.
Wigan midfielder James McCarthy had an okay game against Kazakhstan but will need to improve on that performance this evening if he wants to push Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan for a place over the coming twelve months.
Having put the nightmare of two successive cruciate knee ligament injuries behind him, 23-year-old midfielder David Meyler finally comes in for his senior debut after receiving a call-up to replace Darron Gibson, who declined the offer.
Big things were expected from Cork native before he suffered the first of those set-backs in 2010 and it will be an extra special night for the ex-Cork City player.
Debutant Robbie Brady, meanwhile, is arguably the country’s most exciting prospect. The Manchester United winger only trained with the squad for the first time earlier this week so too much shouldn’t be expected from him but an impressive performance here could guarantee inclusion in upcoming squads.
Between the sticks, Millwall’s David Forde gets the nod ahead of Darren Randolph. With Shay Given now retired, the 32-year-old moves up to back-up to Keiren Westwood and will need to prove that Ireland can count on him when the Sunderland stopper is unavailable.
Will Kevin Doyle or Shane Long stake a claim for a starting role up front?
Neither of the former Reading strike partnership will be happy with not getting into the first XI for the Kazakhstan game. On current form, Long is the more deserving of a place and should be forgiven for feeling disappointed at falling behind Robbie Keane, Jon Walters and Simon Cox in the pecking order. Doyle, who has endured a difficult year at club level, did change the game when he came on in Astana, however, by popping up with the winning goal.
A couple of goals tonight might force Trap into rethinking who his first choice frontmen are for the next two qualifiers.
What of James McClean?
His fall-out with Giovanni Trapattoni last week was well-publicized and although the manager has said the issue has been put to bed, McClean is seemingly being punished for his outburst by not starting tonight.
Trap has used players’ youth as an excuse for not playing them in the past but doesn’t seem to have an issue with throwing Brady into the deep end against Oman. Whether he is taking McClean’s place or the plan was to have both on the wings meaning the returning Andy Keogh is the man to benefit from the Sunderland winger’s ill-judged comments is unclear but it will be interesting to see whether McClean is introduced into the action and at what point.