Euro 2012: Selecting Republic of Ireland's Starting XI from Their Squad of 23
Monday saw Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni's squad of 23 for the upcoming European Championships announced. Eight stand-by players have been announced in case of injury to one of the initial group.
It was also noted that Wigan Athletic midfielder James McCarthy would not be included as he had asked to be withdrawn following his father's cancer diagnosis.
The squad, in positional order:
Midfielders: Keith Andrews (West Brom), Glenn Whelan (Stoke), Darron Gibson (Everton), Damien Duff (Fulham), Aiden McGeady (S Moscow), Stephen Hunt (Wolves), Keith Fahey (Birmingham), James McClean (Sunderland).
Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Kevin Doyle (Wolves), Shane Long (West Brom), Simon Cox (West Brom), Jonathan Walters (Stoke).
With just over a month to go now until Euro 2012 and the names now known of those who will be representing Ireland in their first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup, focus will begin to turn to just who will make up the starting 11 for the first Group C game against Croatia.
Who will Trapattoni pair up front with Robbie Keane? Will James McClean force his way into the team after a name-making season with Sunderland? And what is the best defensive lineup to keep the Irish as solid as possible at the back?
Getting into the mind of Trapattoni is not easy. But nonetheless, here is the lineup that he may look to start the tournament with, mixing the mainstays of the qualification campaign with one or two possible surprises as the Republic of Ireland return to the big time.
Goalkeeper: Shay Given
Shay Given's place in Trapattoni's team is...well, a given.
Having played well over 100 times for his country, Given has been Ireland's definite No. 1 for well over a decade. For the immediate future, that will not change.
As one of the Irish squad's most experienced campaigners, he will be counted upon to keep up his typically reliable performances between the sticks and give his team the best chance possible of keeping the opposition out.
There is no reason to think Given will shirk this responsibility. Having had a taste of tournament football at the 2002 World Cup, he will be keen to make sure his second experience lasts as long as possible.
Right-Back: John O'Shea
The versatile John O'Shea has done and still could do a job for his country anywhere across the defence. But for Euro 2012, it is likely he will be primarily in contention for the right-back position.
And to begin with, at least, O'Shea should get the nod ahead of Stephen Kelly.
Kelly offers a more attacking option at full-back and has covered ably for O'Shea when he has been absent. O'Shea, however, has the edge on his younger teammate when it comes to defensive play.
The focus of Ireland's full-backs will be to play their part in building a solid defensive wall in front of Shay Given. That does not mean they can not look to go forward, but it should not be their priority, and for that role O'Shea is probably a better fit.
Centre-Back: Richard Dunne
After missing two months of football with a broken collarbone, Richard Dunne gave his Aston Villa side a timely boost in their battle to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
The timing was crucial for Dunne, too, and has allowed him some important game-time as he looks to get himself in the best condition possible for the summer's European Championships.
Dunne has been a mainstay of the Ireland defence for some time now. A vital physical presence, he also boasts years worth of defensive nous that will likely prove crucial should Ireland upset the odds and progress from Group C.
Though they are sides brimming with creative quality, Croatia and Italy do not boast especially deadly strikeforces, and Dunne will fancy his chances in giving them a hard time.
Those two games will likely provide Ireland's best chance of points, especially with the difficult task of Spain coming in between.
Centre-Back: Sean St Ledger
Having represented his country 25 times now, Sean St Ledger has become a mainstay of the Irish defence.
Euro 2012 will provide a big test of the defender's talents as he will come up against some of the best opposition of his career.
Yet despite having not tested himself in any top-flight club division, he has proved himself reliable enough playing for Ireland and more than played his part in their qualification for this tournament.
Ledger's comfort playing alongside Richard Dunne should give him the edge over Darren O'Dea for a place in the starting lineup.
Left-Back: Stephen Ward
Since making his debut against Northern Ireland nearly a year ago, Stephen Ward has made the left-back spot his own.
Barring injury, Trapattoni will continue to pick the 26-year-old and will be counting on him to play his part in what will need to be an enormous effort by the defence should they hope to progress beyond the group stage.
After a frustrating season that has seen his club side, Wolverhampton Wanderers, relegated from the Premier League, Ward will want to finish the year on a high and will go into the tournament fully motivated.
Right-Midfield: Damien Duff
It does not seem possible that Damien Duff made his international debut as long ago as 1998. The 33-year-old has retained a youthfulness in appearance and play and remains one of Ireland's most effective attacking weapons.
Duff will be one of his team's key outlets, and his ability to run with the ball be required both as a method of attack and also in giving his teammates a breather in three group games, because they probably won't have the ball as long as their opponents will.
In this respect, Duff has proven himself a valuable team player over the years and can be relied upon to pull his weight when it comes to the less glamorous aspects of the game.
Still, Ireland's fortunes will rest heavily on whether Duff (along with the likes of Keane) can conjure something out of nothing on the offensive end of things as opportunities may otherwise prove few and far between.
Centre-Midfield: Keith Andrews
Keith Andrews' move to West Bromwich Albion earlier this year has led to something of a re-evaluation of the midfielder's credentials. His performances at the heart of the Baggies midfield have earned him a level of respect that had not been so forthcoming in his first experience of top-flight football with Blackburn Rovers.
International football had been something of an escape for Andrews prior to this point. Acting as a place, he has been able to forget his frustrations at club level and prove his worth as a valued member of the Irish side.
As he meets up with his fellow countrymen this summer, Andrews should do so with an extra measure of confidence. That will be important, as he prepares to face the likes of Luka Modric, Andres Iniesta and Andrea Pirlo in the midfield battles, which will go a long way to deciding Ireland's fate this summer.
Andrews will be tasked with combating them as best he can. We will have to wait and see how he comes out, but what is certain is that he is going into it in the best form possible.
Centre-Midfield: Glenn Whelan
Glenn Whelan is one of the players who benefited most from the appointment of Giovanni Trapattoni as manager. Under the Italian's management, he has flourished.
The Stoke City man has become a regular fixture in the side and, as has been the case for sometime now, will be deployed alongside Keith Andrews in central midfield.
As well as making necessary defensive contributions, he will be relied upon to keep Ireland ticking as best as possible. That will be easier said than done going up against some of Europe's best midfielders.
But the international stage has been one Whelan has shown himself to be more than comfortable performing on, and he will surely relish the challenges he will face in playing his pivotal role.
Left-Midfield: James McClean
Considering Aiden McGeady has more often than not been selected by Trapattoni out on the wing, whether or not international newcomer James McClean will take his place is unknown.
McClean has only emerged as a contender in the last five months after making the breakthrough with Sunderland in the Premier League, with some exciting and effective displays on the left.
But with plenty of experience elsewhere in the team, this might be one position where Ireland can afford to try out a (relatively) unknown quantity in the form of McClean, at least for the game against Croatia.
A combination of confidence and youthful exuberance could make McClean the sort of X-factor that might pay dividends for Ireland. With plenty of defensive cover all over the team, he might be as a good candidate as any to leave to his own devices and see if he can turn a game on its head.
If it does not work out, Trapattoni then has the option of calling on McGeady. If it does, he might have a potential match winner on his hands, and he can still use McGeady as someone to bring on and inject some energy late in the game.
Striker: Robbie Keane
The Republic's all-time leading scorer has been one of the first names on the team sheet for some time now. But whilst he has never lacked for energy and commitment, what seemed like a career stagnating has been revitalised in the past nine months with Robbie Keane well and truly back on-song.
The 31-year-old's decision to move across the pond and join the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer was undoubtedly a confidence boost for the forward, who found himself wanted once again after a difficult couple of years in and out of the picture at Tottenham Hotspur.
January's loan spell at Aston Villa was also important in reminding everyone that Keane had lost none of the ability that made him so successful in his time at Spurs in particular. Villa themselves have certainly struggled without Keane's flair and zest for the game since he returned to America.
But arguably most important for him has been Ireland's qualification for their first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup.
Keane flourished in the environment of major tournament football last time around. That hunger to compete on such a big stage will be vital to Ireland this year, too, where Keane will be desperate to prove himself a player meant for such surroundings.
Trapattoni will be hopeful that this will help his captain to hit the ground running against Croatia, as they will look to Keane to set the tone early on.
Striker: Shane Long
With Keane a certainty to start up front, the question is who he will be paired with.
Kevin Doyle, Jonathan Walters and Shane Long have all been tested there, and all have strong arguments to make as to why Trapattoni should go with whom.
Doyle and Walters will work hard all day long, grafting and closing down. That is something that has worked very well for Ireland in the qualifying process, making them a tough side all over the pitch that have fought their way through.
But when it comes to the tournament itself, they will need the best possible person to grab a goal when the chances are few and far in between. With Keane capable of doing a lot of the running beside him, that should leave Long at hand to lead the line and provide Ireland's best goal-threat.
Long knows his way around the penalty box and is comfortable attacking outside it. Though he might not cause opposition defences a whole lot of problems, he has the ability to get a shot off.
Against the teams they face in Group C, those chances might prove rare. But to get the payoff, Ireland might just have to take the risk.