THE COUNTDOWN TO the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad announcement is well underway, with Giovanni Trapattoni set to prune his panel of hopefuls to the chosen 23 next Monday.
But who are the dead certs to make the cut? Who are the men battling for those final few places? And who can start making alternative arrangements for their summer holidays?
In the first of a four-part series, we take a look at Trapattoni’s options for the tournament starting with the three goalkeeping spots.
At 36, Euro 2012 may well be Shay Given’s final appearance at a major tournament but, barring injury, there is no doubt that he will go to Poland as Ireland’s number one.
The big man from County Donegal is one of the few squad members still remaining from the 2002 World Cup, and with 121 caps since making his debut against Russia in 1996, he has bags of international experience between the sticks.
A hamstring injury late last year was Given’s only real injury worry this season and, although Aston Villa have found themselves dragged into the relegation picture, his performances have ensured that Villa’s goal difference has remained considerably better than those they are battling against.
Trapattoni’s clear preference as Given’s deputy, Kieren Westwood is well used to watching on from the wings while the main man does his stuff. Injury and suspension aside, his chances for game time will be strictly limited in Poland but at least he knows that he’s 99% sure of a spot on the plane.
The Manchester-born stopper did his reputation no harm when he got a big move from Coventry to Sunderland last summer. But while new club mate James McClean has flourished since Steve Bruce’s departure and Martin O’Neill’s arrival at the Stadium of Light, Westwood has slipped back down behind Simon Mignolet in the pecking order.
Given aside, he’s the most experienced of the available Irish keepers with eight international caps.
Many expect Forde to be the squad’s third keeper, but while Given and Westwood are as close to bankers as you can get, there’s every chance that Trapattoni could spring a surprise and leave the Milwall man at home.
Now 32, he played himself into the international frame with a string of solid club performances for the Lions, keeping 20 clean sheets during their first season back in the Championship to earn his shot in the friendly against Italy last summer.
Forde had to sit and watch for the last six weeks of this season as Maik Taylor came in on loan from Leeds and took his place. Will Trap favour somebody with more match practice under his belt?
If Trapattoni does look beyond Forde for that third goalkeeping spot, Motherwell’s Darren Randolph might just be the man to slot in.
The Bray native, 24, is yet to win a senior cap but represented Ireland at every level from U15 to “B” level and he was part of the squads for the Carling Nations Cup games against Northern Ireland and Scotland last year.
He has made a name for himself in Scotland this season, keeping 13 league clean sheets as part of the solid Motherwell defense which has underpinned their challenge for a first-ever Champions League spot.
A left-field pick, but you could definitely make a case for his inclusion.
33-year-old Kenny hasn’t played for Ireland since the Steve Staunton era, but the simple fact of the matter is that he is the only Irishman apart from Given who is playing Premier League football on a weekly basis.
His career is back at a peak now, but it hasn’t always been that way since he told Staunton that he no longer wished to be considered for international selection for personal reasons in 2007.
He served a nine-month drugs ban in 2009 after inadvertently taking a banned substance in medication, and although he hinted that he would be in favour of an international recall last year, the chances of him earning a wild-card spot in Trap’s squad are slim to say the least.
West Ham’s Stephen Henderson was called up to the squad for the friendly against the Czech Republic in February, while Joe Murphy of Coventry City won one of his two caps under Trapattoni in a friendly against Algeria in 2010.
Cork native Colin Doyle impressed for Birmingham during their FA Cup games against Chelsea, but he has only played five times in the league this season and is a little short of match practice.
Brian Murphy, the former Bohemian FC keeper and now Paddy Kenny’s team-mate at QPR, has featured on the fringes of a few Trapattoni squads — most notably in the 2010 World Cup Qualifying play-off against France — but has only played once all season.
If Trap’s looking for a penalty specialist though, he could do worse than call on Ciaran Kelly of Sligo Rovers who famously saved four penalties in the 2010 FAI Cup final and two more in 2011. Now that would be shock choice…