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From the fringes of the squad to Ireland's man of the match in Cardiff

10 October 2017 17:45
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From the fringes of the squad to Ireland's man of the match in Cardiff

For the heavy hitters of Irish football writing, this process is usually nothing more than an afterthought, as they're generally seated somewhere towards the front of the section where every seat has an accompanying monitor.

But when you're outside of that bubble you're generally placed somewhere in the nosebleeds where it's a bit of a free-for-all, and thus, if you want to give yourself a chance at a seat with a monitor you get out there early.

Early bird gets the worm they say, and inevitably the cold too at the Aviva, but there I sat 45 minutes before Ireland were due to take on Switzerland in a pre-Euro 2016 friendly.

There's not a lot of things that you can point to that define the Martin O'Neill era of Irish football but surprise team selections is certainly one of them.

Against Switzerland in the first of three international friendlies, there was a lot of room for O'Neill to work with in this department and a lot of different combinations that he could put together.

Sitting there stirring a cup of coffee, I thought of the different players he could throw together and when ‎FAI Communications Manager Gareth Maher handed out the teamsheets a short while later, inevitably there were some surprises.

David Meyler and Stephen Quinn had been named in the centre of midfield. Brentford's Alan Judge had been given a berth on the wing. Kevin Doyle had been recalled from the international wilderness and was handed his first Ireland start in 18 months.

And Blackburn Rovers defender Shane Duffy had been given just his second international start nearly two years after he had made his Ireland debut against Costa Rica in the summer of 2014.

The game flew by without any real moments of note, as a lot of Irish football friendlies at the Aviva tend to do, and today I couldn't really tell you a whole lot about the game other than Ciaran Clark scored and Kevin Doyle cruelly withdrew in the first-half with a knee injury.

But I do remember Duffy that day. From the opening few minutes of that game he was barking orders at his teammates and throwing himself into challenges.

He looked like a player that was captaining Ireland for the first time and not a guy who was essentially auditioning for a seat on the plane to France.

Duffy, Doyle, Judge, Meyler and Quinn were all called to the set that day to audition for a role in Ireland's summer blockbuster - O̶c̶e̶a̶n̶'̶s̶ O'Neill's 11 - but fast forward 18 months and their respective fates could not be more polarising.

Firstly, Doyle has had to sadly retire from football due to a series of concussions. Judge, who was one of the most in-form players in the Championship that season, played four days later against Slovakia and hasn't play a game for Ireland since as he continues to recover from a broken leg.

And Duffy, who had played only one game for the national team before that night, broke into the starting team against Italy at the Euro's, started and prematurely finished the second round tie against France, and then played in every game he was available for during the World Cup qualification campaign, including last night's Wales game in which he was awarded the man of the match.


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