TONIGHT'S the night a select group of Republic of Ireland players need to grab Giovanni Trapattoni's attention and solidify a place in future Irish starting XI's by producing the goods against Poland at the Aviva Stadium. A plethora of international retirements, Trap's increased air miles and a big media push for a more expansive playing style means there has never been a better time to stake a claim for a permanent role in the Irish setup.
The following players need to put their hands up and make their mark in front of an expectant home crowd and a manager looking to decide on his strongest starting eleven ahead of the Swedish and Austrian World Cup qualifiers later this year.
Shay Given's retirement and Kieren Westwood's lack of first team opportunities at Sunderland have pushed David Forde to the forefront of Giovanni Trapattoni's thoughts and the Millwall shot-stopper will never have a better chance of making the goalkeeping position his own ahead of the crunch World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Austria in March. The 33-year old made an impressive international debut against Italy back in 2011 but 121 saves and 7 cleans sheets in 24 league outings for promotion-chasing Millwall sees Forde rewarded with a shot at solidifying a place between the sticks for the Republic.
Chances of staking a first-team place: Excellent. Forde received a ringing endorsement from both Trapattoni and Tardelli in the build-up to the Poland friendly and should make the position his own with a competent display.
Brady's decision to leave Old Trafford in search of regular first team football at Hull City hasn't harmed the former St. Kevin's Boys international opportunities with Giovanni Trapattoni. He starts on the wing against Poland later tonight looking to continue his meteoric rise since grabbing the headlines with a debut goal against Oman back in October. The key to Brady's chances of nailing down a regular first team berth lie in the young midfielder's set piece delivery and ability to whip in crosses from either wing. Ireland is crying out for a creative midfielder come winger to replace the departed Damien Duff and a positive display from the Hull City midfielder could force Trapattoni into handing Brady a starting berth against the Swedes.
Chances of staking a first-team place: Good. Brady is competing against Aiden McGeady, James McClean and Simon Cox for one of the two wide midfield positions but needs a standout performance to move to the top of the queue.
Aston Villa's plummet down the Premier League table towards an inevitable end-of-season relegation battle has seen Ciaran Clark emerge as one of the few bright lights in an otherwise appalling season for Paul Lambert's side. The 23-year old partners John O'Shea in the heart of Ireland's defence later tonight looking to improve on his three previous appearances and stake a claim to become the absent Richard Dunne's long-term replacement. The Poland friendly offers Clark an opportunity to forget his current domestic woes and prove to Giovanni Trapattoni that he deserves a regular place in the Irish back four.
Chances of staking a first-team place: Fair. Richard Dunne's long-term injury has given his fellow Aston Villa defender an opportunity to shine in the Irish defence and until he returns, Clarke looks the past available partner for John O'Shea. Expect Dunne to reclaim the jersey once passed fit though.
The former UCD and Derry City striker makes his senior international bow following a string of eye-catching displays up front for Derby County. Sammon's decision to drop down a division having failed to secure a regular place in the Wigan Athletic starting line-up has reaped dividends with the forward contributing 6 goals and 3 assists to Nigel Clough's side's push for promotion. Playing in a probable 4-4-2 formation alongside the experienced Shane Long will benefit Sammon whose height and agility should pose the Polish defence plenty of problems and offer Trapattoni a possible alternative attacking weapon to Jonathan Walters or Kevin Doyle.
Chances of staking a first-team place: Fair. Sammon's height and ability in the air gives the Derby striker a fighting chance of becoming a more regular member of the Irish team but he will need to produce something spectacular to oust the likes of Robbie Keane, Shane Long, Jonathan Walters and Kevin Doyle.
The Norwich City playmaker has to make do with a place on the bench for tonight's friendly but will be desperate to enhance his burgeoning reputation by maximising whatever minutes his Italian manager permits at an expectant Aviva Stadium. Hoolahan has only a couple of second half appearances against Colombia in 2008 and Greece in 2012 to show for his senior international career thus far and the 30-year old needs to make a serious impact or face the prospect of remaining on the periphery of the international fold. Hoolahan's consistent displays for the Canaries - playing just behind Grant Holt in a 4-4-1-1 formation - has returned two goals and two assists in recent months but whether that is enough to change Trapattoni's rigid tactical approach remains to be seen.
Chances of staking a first-team place: Fair. Hoolahan is the current Irish media darling and a player most supporters would love to see playing off Shane Long or Jonathan Walters but Trapattoni's preference for a more defensive 4-5-1 setup means it is unlikely the Norwich midfielder will become a regular starter unless there is a seismic shift in Ireland's tactical approach.
Republic of Ireland XI v Poland: David Forde, Paul McShane, John O'Shea (Captain), Ciaran Clark, Greg Cunningham, Robbie Brady, James McCarthy, Glenn Whelan, James McClean, Shane Long and Conor Sammon.
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