Highlights on Off The Ball

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Highlights on Off The Ball

Five Ireland players with plenty to gain during the international break

Ireland's upcoming fixtures with Belgium and Lithuania are fast approaching and with that in mind...

Five Ireland players with plen...

Five Ireland players with plenty to gain during the international break

Ireland's upcoming fixtures with Belgium and Lithuania are fast approaching and with that in mind, Nathan Murphy looked at the five players who have the most to gain during the international break.

Nathan Collins

The Burnley defender has made nine Premier League appearances so far for Burnley, however, he has mostly been used as a backup option to James Tarkowski and Ben Mee. Tarkowski may leave Burnley in the summer and Murphy believes Collins has a chance of regular football under Sean Dyche if that comes to pass.

That could lead to a more involved role with the national side under Stephen Kenny.

Nathan Collins prepares for an Ireland game with Andrew Omobamidele Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"With Andrew Omobamidele out injured, I would expect Collins to start the second game against Lithuania," Murphy said.

"Collins is a player that is stuck in that Dyche rut where Tarkowski and Mee always start. Tarkowski is going to leave during the summer. Hopefully, Burnley manage to stay in the Premier League and if they do, Collins is going to be a first-choice centre-back.

"The great thing is when you are first-choice under Dyche, you will play every single week. Every time Collins has played he has looked comfortable at that level.

"He is a big man for a young guy and has a real presence about him. I think he can force his way into the Ireland team."

Will Keane

With 20 goals in all competitions this season, Keane is ready to make an impact for Ireland. Stephen Kenny praised Keane for his versatility in the forward areas, saying that Keane "is having the best season of his career."

Without a recognised goalscorer in the Ireland set-up, there is a huge opportunity for Keane to impress against Belgium and Luxembourg, according to Murphy.

Will Keane of Wigan Athletic during a training session for Ireland Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"Keane could well start on Saturday," Murphy said

"He is banging in the goals for Wigan Athletic and a striker isn't something we really have. Keane is somebody who is in form.

"With Jamie McGrath and Adam Idah out, Keane is probably still a step ahead of Troy Parrott unless Kenny is thinking of just giving Parrott more game time. For the here and now, I think Keane will get a good few opportunities over the next year or so.

Alan Browne

After a very frustrating few years, Browne is aiming for consistency at club level and hoping to carry that into the international set-up.

"He started the first two games of the World Cup qualifying campaign," Murphy said.

"Then he had several injury issues and did not really feature but is always in the squad whenever he is fit.

"He could fit into one of those roles behind the striker or maybe he could play in midfield.

"Browne is basically at the prime of his career. He turns 27 in the next few weeks and is playing at a good level with Preston in the Championship week in, week out.

"If Browne can stay fit, he could be another one who becomes an integral part of the starting XI over the next couple of years."

Dara O' Shea

O'Shea was a key figure in Kenny's back three until he suffered a fractured ankle in Ireland's 2-1 loss to Portugal.

Now that he is back in the squad, Murphy has backed him to rediscover his form.

Dara O'Shea lining up for Ireland Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"He was clearly a player that Kenny loved," Murphy said.

"O'Shea picked up that horrible injury and is just working his way back to fitness. He is probably not quite ready to start on Saturday against Belgium.

"He seemed to be at the top of those three [centre-halves], O'Shea, Omobamidele and Collins. I would expect he will get back there again and be in a position that maybe sees him take somebody's place over the next while."

Jason Knight

There is a real opportunity now for Knight to nail down a place in Kenny's first XI, according to Murphy.

"Knight is clearly the one who has the most to gain over the next while, with McGrath's absence, with the impact he made in that last half hour in Ireland's previous game," Murphy said.

Jason Knight of Ireland and Derby County Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"I really hope that he does grab it and we can settle on him as one of that first-choice XI and then see what happens in the summer."

Knight could be on the radar of other clubs considering Derby's financial troubles.

A positive performance in Ireland's two games will be a good platform for the central midfielder to kick on as we enter the final stages of the season.

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Alan Browne Championship Dara O'Shea Ireland Jason Knight Nathan Collins Premier League Preston North End Stephen Kenny Wigan Will Keane