Republic of Ireland in a tough group at Euro 2016


Ireland is participating in back-to-back European Championships for the first time. (Peter Morrison/AP)

For the first time in its history, the Republic of Ireland will be competing in back-to-back European Championships. It was knocked out during the group stage in 2012, and after overcoming a difficult qualifying campaign, The Green Army faces another tough task at Euro 2016 in France.

Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Stoke), Darren Randolph (West Ham), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday).
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie (Derby), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Richard Keogh (Derby), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Shane Duffy (Blackburn), Stephen Ward (Burnley).
Midfielders: Aiden McGeady (Sheffield Wednesday), James McClean (West Brom), Glenn Whelan (Stoke), James McCarthy (Everton), David Meyler (Hull), Stephen Quinn (Reading), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich), Jeff Hendrick (Derby) Robbie Brady (Norwich), Jonathan Walters (Stoke).
Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Shane Long (Southampton), Daryl Murphy (Ipswich).

Martin O’Neill has worked wonders with Ireland since he was hired in November 2013. O’Neill has lost just five times in 24 games, which has shown how stingy this Irish side has been since he took the job. However, the 64-year-old has also been able to get his side to play a more expansive style when necessary. That could prove to be crucial during the tournament.

4-4-2: (GK) Randolph – (D) Brady, O’Shea, Clark, Coleman – (M) Hoolahan, McCarthy, Whelan, McClean – (F) Walters, Keane

MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.

Match schedule || Group standings || Live scoreboard || Roster lists
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June 13: vs. Sweden in Paris
June 18: vs. Belgium in Bordeaux
June 22: vs. Italy in Lille

Ireland was placed in Group D, which contained world champions Germany and one of Europe’s dark horses in Poland. The Republic appeared to be in trouble late in qualifying, but managed to shock the Germans with a 1-0 win to finish third. The Irish faced Bosnia and Herzegovina in the playoff, winning 3-1 on aggregate to advance to Euro 2016.

Ireland has been known to be a defensive-minded side in the past. While O’Neill’s team is still organized at the back and tough to break down, it has become slightly more expansive during this cycle. However, in a group containing Belgium, Italy and Sweden, the Irish may not have many opportunities to swarm forward and attack at will.

The Irish have produced some great players over the past decade. Shay Given was one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, John O’Shea has been one of the national team’s most reliable servants and Robbie Keane is Ireland’s all-time leading scorer. However, many of these stars are now in their twilight years. The midfield also lacks creativity, which will be an issue if they’re in need of a goal.

Darren Randolph: The 29-year-old goalkeeper is West Ham’s backup, but he became Ireland’s No. 1 in their past few games. He started in the final qualifier against Poland, along with both legs of the playoff vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Randolph may not earn a lot of minutes with his club, but he has impressed with the national team and that form should continue in France.

Seamus Coleman: The Everton defender is a prototypical full back. Coleman is a decent defender but loves to attack. He is a clever dribbler and is heavily involved in the final third, no matter which shirt he is wearing. The likes of Eden Hazard and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Belgium), and Lorenzo Insigne (Italy) will start on the Irishman’s flank, so he’ll have a grand task on his hands.

James McCarthy: Despite Everton’s lacklustre campaign in the Premier League, McCarthy was consistently solid in midfield. He occupies a deep role, never strays away from his position, he’s an effective passer and strong defender. He averaged more tackles this season in the Premier League than Eric Dier, who will surely be in contention to start for England.

How will Ireland create chances? McCarthy can pick out a long pass, plus wingers such as Wes Hoolahan and Jonathan Walters are decent attackers, but the Irish don’t have a typical playmaker. It served them well during qualifying, but relying on set pieces and the odd individual moment of brilliance may not be enough for the Republic.

The addition of the best four third-placed teams qualifying for the round of 16 could be a blessing for Ireland. Facing the so-called powerhouses of the group in Belgium and Italy to close out the group stage is daunting, though. If the Republic can claim a result in one of those matches, it could squeak into the last 16, but it will be a fight.


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