Bit play­ers’ chance for star billing

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - COLIN YOUNG

THE trip to Gi­bral­tar for the first Euro 2020 qual­i­fier may be more than three months away, but the work has al­ready started for Mick McCarthy. One of his first pri­or­i­ties is to meet West Ham mid­fielder De­clan Rice and make his own bid to sign him up for the Repub­lic of Ire­land.

There are also those on the fringes of the squad, ig­nored or dis­carded by the pre­vi­ous regime, who will be on McCarthy’s radar as he as­signs matches to his coach­ing staff across Eng­land, Scot­land and Ire­land.

McCarthy aims to strengthen the core of the squad which failed so mis­er­ably in the Na­tions League cam­paign un­der Mar­tin O’Neill. That changes the land­scape for play­ers like Ai­den McGeady who has re­dis­cov­ered his form in League One at Sun­der­land.

Who, then, are the main names who will be look­ing to make an im­pres­sion as the count­down be­gins for the March qual­i­fiers against Gi­bral­tar and Ge­or­gia?

MATT DO­HERTY (Wolves)

THE full-back’s as­sist against Chelsea in mid­week was his third of the sea­son as the for­mer Bo­hemi­ans de­fender con­tin­ues to set­tle into life in the Pre­mier League.

Now 26, the Dubliner has been a vir­tual ever-present un­der Wolves coach Nuno Espir­ito Santo, de­spite the in­flux of largely Por­tuguese play­ers the for­mer Porto boss has signed since his ar­rival at Mo­lineux more than 18 months ago.

Named in the Cham­pi­onship team of last sea­son, Do­herty can play at left or right-back but it is in the Wolves five-man de­fence that he has re­ally thrived, ad­ding two goals to his as­sists since their re­turn to the Pre­mier League this sea­son.

But Do­herty strug­gled to im­press Mar­tin O’Neill and had to wait two years be­tween his first call-up to the se­nior squad and his first cap as a sub against Tur­key ear­lier this year.

Al­though Cyrus Christie per­formed well in the ab­sence of in­jured cap­tain Sea­mus Cole­man at right-back, even Stephen Ward’s in­juries could not per­suade O’Neill to give Do­herty a run on the other side of the Ir­ish de­fence. Do­herty’s frus­tra­tion with the pre­vi­ous regime got the bet­ter of him in a ra­dio in­ter­view on the day of de­par­ture.

McCarthy, of course, knows Do­herty well, as the Wolves man­ager was pre­pared to take a gam­ble on him eight years ago and sign him af­ter a pre-sea­son game against Bo­hemi­ans, when he was play­ing out of po­si­tion. He hadn’t played a first team game for Bohs at that stage and was signed for £75,000, mak­ing his Pre­mier League debut against Liver­pool a year later.

McCarthy also knows Do­herty is good enough to be a long-term re­place­ment at left-back for Ward, an­other of his Wolves sign­ings from the League of Ire­land, who is not play­ing at Burn­ley, cur­rently side­lined with a knee in­jury.

DAVID McGOLDRICK (Sh­effield United)

THE 30-year-old striker, who strug­gled to make any im­pres­sion on Mar­tin O’Neill, comes back into the reck­on­ing hav­ing been en­cour­aged by McCarthy to play for Ire­land when it was dis­cov­ered he was el­i­gi­ble.

And the striker McCarthy signed for Ip­swich Town five years ago is in the best form of his ca­reer af­ter leav­ing Port­man Road on a free trans­fer in the sum­mer to join Sh­effield United.

Bra­mall Lane reg­u­lar Alan Biggs, the vet­eran broad­caster and jour­nal­ist, said Blades boss Chris Wilder had to con­vince United fans McGoldrick was a good ad­di­tion to his squad af­ter he had im­pressed dur­ing pre-sea­son tri­als. “He has been su­perb and the best free trans­fer of last sum­mer,” Biggs said. The fans were ex­pect­ing big mar­quee sign­ings and per­haps they were a bit dis­re­spect­ful be­cause he was free but his mar­ket value now would eas­ily be £1 to £2 mil­lion.

“He has never been pro­lific, only scored just over 100 ca­reer goals, but what he has given as a link-up player along­side Billy Sharp with Mark Duffy be­hind them as the Num­ber 10, has been ex­cep­tional.”

A re­call un­der McCarthy is highly likely.

RICHARD TOW­ELL

(Rother­ham United — on loan from Brighton)

HE may have lost his way at Brighton, but the for­mer Dun­dalk star has found his spir­i­tual home in south York­shire and is start­ing to play reg­u­larly again along­side fel­low Ir­ish play­ers Ryan Man­ning and An­thony Forde. Vet­eran mid­fielder Dar­ren Porter is also at the New York Sta­dium.

For­mer Celtic ju­nior Tow­ell signed for then Cham­pi­onship side Brighton in Novem­ber 2015 on the back of 25 league goals from 32 League of Ire­land ap­pear­ances for the cham­pi­ons.

But Chris Hughton, chas­ing pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League, was ini­tially re­luc­tant to un­set­tle his es­tab­lished team and throw him into the side, be­fore Tow­ell suf­fered a se­ri­ous knee in­jury which ruled him out for three months.

Brighton’s even­tual rise to the Pre­mier League, and the in­flux of sig­nif­i­cant sign­ings over the last two years, fur­ther hin­dered Tow­ell’s first-team chances on the south coast. This loan spell at Rother­ham is his sec­ond in two years. Rother­ham are fac­ing a long bat­tle at the wrong end of the ta­ble in the sec­ond tier and Tow­ell has scored two goals since his lat­est tem­po­rary move from Brighton.

Brighton striker Aaron Con­nolly will have a chance to grab the scouts’ at­ten­tion if he can secure a loan move in Jan­uary. The 18-year-old has scored five goals in his three Check a trade Tro­phy matches but needs reg­u­lar first team foot­ball.

AI­DEN McGEADY (Sun­der­land)

SUN­DER­LAND pressed the re­set but­ton af­ter rel­e­ga­tion to League One and McGe- ady, who was in­jured dur­ing the sum­mer trans­fer win­dow and missed out on an exit from the club, has done the same and thrived in a team win­ning games again un­der new man­ager Jack Ross.

Ross, a for­mer de­fender with SPL ex­pe­ri­ence, used to mark the young McGeady at Celtic. Or try to. He has cer­tainly given the winger the same free­dom he en­joyed in those early days and he has be­come an in­te­gral part of the Wearside re­vival with six goals in the last seven games.

McCarthy will have no hes­i­ta­tion re­call­ing a player with McGeady’s ex­pe­ri­ence and abil­ity to prise open teams like Gi­bral­tar and Ge­or­gia. McGeady’s last Ire­land ap­pear­ance was in the dis­as­trous 5-1 home de­feat to Den­mark.

There are other op­tions for the new Ir­ish man­age­ment team to con­sider, but not many. O’Neill and his scouts searched for el­i­gi­ble play­ers to bol­ster the squad weak­ened by the in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ments of Rob­bie Keane, Shay Given, John O’Shea and Kevin Doyle.

Strik­ers like Hull City’s Will Keane and for­mer Chelsea ju­nior Pa­trick Bam­ford, who is now at Leeds, have yet to fully com­mit to the Ir­ish cause and have both failed to make much im­pres­sion on the Cham­pi­onship this sea­son.

Bam­ford had yet to start at El­land Road and scored just one goal be­fore break­ing his leg in Septem­ber and for­mer Manch­ester United player Keane has been on the bench all sea­son at Hull and scored just once for the club in 20 ap­pear­ances.

Ro­nan Cur­tis’s ex­cel­lent form at League One Portsmouth con­tin­ues al­though his goal against Wal­sall last week was his first in eight since he was first called up by O’Neill for the Na­tions League cam­paign.

Else­where in League One, Rochdale de­fen­sive pair Joseph Raf­ferty and Ryan De­laney con­tinue to get ex­pe­ri­ence and ac­claim and Brent­ford ’keeper Jack Bon­ham is en­hanc­ing his rep­u­ta­tion at strug­glers Bris­tol Rovers fol­low­ing on from his last sea­son’s loan with Carlisle United in League Two.

The 25-year-old has been un­able to dis­place Daniel Bent­ley at Grif­fin Park but his con­sis­tent form and six clean sheets this sea­son have put him among the list of goal­keep­ers in line to be un­der­study to Dar­ren Ran­dolph. A fa­mil­iar name to McCarthy is emerg­ing at Wal­sall where Liam Kin­sella, son of his for­mer mid­fielder Mark, is hav­ing a good run of games at the mo­ment. Kin­sella, 22, can play in mid­field or at full-back, and has al­ready rep­re­sented Ire­land un­der 19s. He was born in Colch­ester. Kin­sella’s Wal­sall team-mate Luke Leahy, 26, an ever-present at left-back, will be on the new set-up’s radar.

Two play­ers re­turn­ing from in­jury will also be closely mon­i­tored, pro­vid­ing they can get games. James McCarthy is mak­ing slow but good progress at Ever­ton, al­though the fine form of Marco Silva’s side could hin­der his first team chances be­tween now and March. Jonny Hayes is also back from se­ri­ous in­jury at Celtic but has failed to make reg­u­lar starts un­der Bren­dan Rodgers over the last two months.

‘McCarthy also knows Do­herty is good enough to be a long-term re­place­ment at left-back for Stephen Ward’

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