Callum O’Dowda will be the first back in action, hopefully, when Bristol City host Burton Albion at Ashton Gate Stadium tomorrow evening, but Daryl Murphy will have nigh on another two days to rest and recuperate before turning out for Nottingham Forest. Chances are, he will be glad of it.
O’Dowda is only 22 and didn’t feature against Wales in Cardiff after his star turn in Dublin against Moldova last Friday. Murphy is pushing towards 35 and he clocked up 170 minutes across the two Group D games inside four days.
“I have had two good results so, hopefully, I can take some confidence from them, take that back to Nottingham Forest, continue where I left off there, doing well and scoring goals and, when the play-offs come, I will be in a position where the manager trusts me to start.” That’s the plan anyway.
With Jonathan Walters all but certain to sit out the two legs next month with a knee injury and Shane Long (hip) deemed unlikely to make Southampton’s game with Newcastle United this weekend, Murphy’s claim for a starting role remains strong.
With six goals for Forest this season, his form and fitness will be of considerable interest to O’Neill, who addressed the shortages up front by drafting in Sean Maguire, Scott Hogan and Aiden O’Brien for the recent double-header.
Only Maguire saw game time, making his senior debut when coming off the bench late on against the Moldovans, and Murphy is encouraged rather than threatened by the belated arrival of support troops as the Republic continues its march to Russia.
“It’s nice, because we have a few old players in the squad now. We have been in for a while and we have been looking to see if anyone was coming through. To be honest, it wasn’t really [happening], but some players have come out now. They are young and hungry.
“You love to see that, coming into the squad and getting experience like I did all those years ago. It’s a great feeling to be involved in games like this. I was never involved in high-profile games when I first came into the squad, so it’s an experience. It’s brilliant.”
For Murphy, the last few seasons playing on the international stage have, basically, been a bonus, having been ignored for so long by Giovanni Trapattoni and, though his lack of pace has been criticised, there is no denying the role he has played.
His two goals against Moldova were expertly taken and they allowed Ireland breathe easy from early on in a game that could have been another nail-biter, but heroics in qualification don’t always guarantee a major role in the finals that follow.
Liam Brady was undone by suspension and injury back in 1988 when the Republic first made the big time and Walters’ enjoyment of, and participation at, Euro 2016 was greatly eroded by a troublesome Achilles after a superb qualifying campaign.
A lingering concern is the fact that scoring goals hasn’t been straightforward for this Irish side. Romania and Bulgaria both scored as many in the qualification stage — 12 — and neither managed to finish higher than fourth in their respective groups.
For Murphy and the others who have manned the forward trenches for Ireland of late, there is far more time spent chasing than there is poaching, but if that’s the brief then the Waterford man is more than happy to carry it out.
“You’re a professional footballer, the least thing you can do is to run for 90 minutes. That’s the least that is expected of you, so if it’s one of those games where you are chasing shadows, chasing lost causes and all of that, you just need one chance for a game to change.
“You could be having the worst game ever and getting nothing, but one chance comes along, you take it and you are a hero. Strikers, in particular, know they need to do that, work as hard as they can for as long as they can and then just take that chance.”