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Back to the drawing board for Martin O'Neill and Ireland

Thursday 22nd March 2018

The Irish national team will return to action on Friday night in Turkey for the first time since Denmark broke their hearts with a 5-1 win in Dublin that meant Martin O'Neill's side would not qualify for the 2018 World Cup. 

Despite much speculation over the last four months Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane will return for another campaign in charge of the boys in green, knowing that qualifying for the European Championships is generally a lot easier than reaching the World Cup with so many more places available. 

In hindsight, Ireland's World Cup qualifying campaign really was a roller coaster ride which to be fair was mostly good but was killed off by a few bad results and performances in the latter stages. The draw away to Georgia and then the home defeats to Serbia and Denmark were the obvious lows but the away wins over Austria and Wales were up there with some of the most exciting wins in qualifying tournaments. However, in football you are judged on results and it was a failed campaign and inevitably questions will be asked about what went wrong.

For Friday's game in Turkey, O'Neill originally named a 30 man squad but he lost a few and has eventually had to settle for 25 players. Rob Elliot, Kieran Westwood, John Egan, Greg Cunningham and Harry Arter were all pulled out of the panel due to injury. With two of those being goalkeepers, Ireland decided to give a call-up to Aaron McCarey of Ross County to take the squad back up to 26 but it has now transpired that Reading midfielder, Liam Kelly has rejected the call-up as he still holds ambitions of one day representing the country of his birth, England.

One of the big positives in the squad is the return of captain, Seamus Coleman. Coleman was out for nine and a half months after fracturing his leg in a World Cup qualifier against Wales back in March 2017. He has already returned for Everton and the Irish players, staff and fans will all be delighted to get a player of Coleman's quality back in the team. 

O'Neill has called up a lot of new faces for this match with a total of eight uncapped players involved. McCarey, who we already mentioned, is joined by Kieran O'Hara, Matt Doherty, Declan Rice, Darragh Lenihan, Derrick Williams, Enda Stevens and Scott Hogan as the players who will be hoping to make an international debut against the Turks. 

While this game is being billed as a friendly, it's a very important game for Ireland. Turkey are a good side and they will provide a big test to a young Irish side but the key for Ireland in this game is to start preparations for their European Championship qualifying attempt. Dublin is one of the many host cities for the 2020 European Championships and it would mean a lot to the nation to be involved in the tournament. 

The draw for the usual qualifiers hasn't been made yet but the UEFA Nations League draw has been made and in truth Ireland have been handed a tough task with Wales and Denmark in their group so it looks unlikely that Ireland will progress that way. However, the tournament, along with this friendly can be used as an opportunity to test players and systems as O'Neill attempts to take Ireland to a third consecutive European Championships.

Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.


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