New Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is ready to welcome James McCarthy and Harry Arter back into the international fold when fixtures resume in the autumn.
McCarthy last played for Ireland in October 2016, primarily due to a broken leg he suffered in early 2018, but he rejected a call-up last year.
A lack of match fitness was cited at the time but, having clocked up 31 appearances for Crystal Palace this season, Kenny sees no obstacle to his comeback.
Arter, too, is in the manager’s thoughts after the midfielder scored the winner for Fulham in last night’s Championship fixture at Nottingham Forest.
Ireland have two Uefa Nations League games against Bulgaria and Finland in early September before the vital Euro 2021 play-off with Slovakia on October 8.
“It was tough for James coming back,” said Kenny about the 29-year-old. “I don’t know all the details; I think he was focusing on getting back playing because it is career-threatening when you’re out that long with injuries.
“He’s had a great season with Crystal Palace overall and played a lot of matches, well over 20 in the Premier League.
“That’s been a great start for him because he’s a really good player.
“Harry is available as well and then we have Jayson Molumby doing really well on loan at Millwall on loan from Brighton.
“I have an idea of how we're going to play but there's still places in the team up for grabs. There's a lot of competition throughout the squad, but it is very prominent in midfield.”
Among the midfielders that trio will have to dislodge in the starting team Kenny inherited from Mick McCarthy is Jeff Hendrick.
Having rejected a contract extension from Burnley, the Dubliner is a free agent and attracting the attention of Serie A clubs, including AC Milan.
“I’ve definitely got an open mind about that,” Kenny said of Hendrick’s possibly changing scene. “Jeff was playing wide on the right all season but probably views himself as a central midfield player.
“I’m not sure what his situation is. Maybe it would have been clearer in a non-Covid environment because that’s probably complicated things. Jeff is a very, very good player and I'm sure he will have plenty of options.”
All the indications are that Kenny won’t be promoting a batch of his former U21 players for this year’s games and there’s no prospect of him switching formation to accommodate rising centre-back Dara O’Shea.
He said: “It’s fair to say there’s too little time and too much at stake to experiment for the play-off against Slovakia.
“I actually used a back-three in my first ever game as manager for Longford (in 1998) and I have switched to that over the years during matches when chasing the games. But with so little preparation time, it’s too radical to be experimenting with a back-three.
“Our back-four and goalkeeper was the strongest point of our last campaign. The problem was creating and scoring goals, only scoring four outside of the wins over Gibraltar. Two of those came from defenders.
The staff and I have analysed the eight Euro qualifiers from last year and the attackers. We just didn’t create enough for them and didn’t look like scoring goals.
Meanwhile, Kenny insists his promotion onto the FAI’s executive team will help the game as a whole. Interim chief executive Gary Owens last week informed staff that the senior boss was becoming international football director.
“To be honest, my job hasn’t changed at all but, since coming into the FAI as U21 manager, I’ve been a strong voice and I think that’s recognised,” he explained.
“Football needs to be at the centre of the decision-making process, particularly with the international teams at all levels.
“This just gives me a seat at the table and I’ll articulate my views. Football needs to be the centre of decision-making.
“Due to austerity at the FAI over the last number of years, some of the international teams at underage level were not resourced in the ways they might have wanted.
“That has a knock-on effect, as it affects how they do in qualifying for tournaments and how players come through. There hasn’t been enough of them.”