John O’Shea on Sammie Szmodics: 'It is good to have a player like that coming in scoring 27 goals’

John O'Shea

John O'Shea Credit: Martin Doherty (ETPhotos)

Republic of Ireland interim manager John O’Shea says that involving Sammie Szmodics in the squad for the upcoming friendlies with Belgium and Switzerland was a no brainer.

The Blackburn Rovers star who has scored 21 Championship goals for the struggling Lancashire outfit and six more in cup competitions remains uncapped but is back in the squad having missed the October and November windows.

“It was very straightforward, one of the first games I went to watch was Blackburn and Millwall - Michael Obafemi was involved in that game,” said O’Shea in Abbotstown on unveiling his squad.

“All the conversations I had with Sammie were straightforward, he’s buzzing and it’s great to have someone who has been consistent and in form.

“He can float in as a striker as a number 10. From what I have noticed from watching Sammie over the last number of seasons in the Championship, every level he has gone to he has responded to it and been able to cope no problem.

“He has just grown and has that maturity in his game. I think he’s versatile in that sense. It won't be a problem to him whatever player he’s picked alongside, or if he is picked that he will cope with that.

“He’ll bring an intelligence in his game that he has developed over the last few years, whether in false positions, he can drift in off the left, drift in off the right. He can cope with any type of strike partner, a front four combination, or front three or whatever it might be.

“He’s very flexible like that, and it is good to have a player like that coming in scoring 27 goals, 21 in the league, it is very important,” he added.

Szmodics forms part of an exciting crop of attacking talent alongside Evan Ferguson, Michael Obafemi - who got his first Millwall goal recently - Troy Parrott, who has been impressing in the Netherlands and Chiedoze Ogbene. While Adam Idah has impressed on loan at Celtic and Mikey Johnston equally away from the Hoops in the stripes of West Brom.

“I’m really buzzing to see how they get on, one leaving Celtic and one joining Celtic, but I spoke to the two of them and they really can’t wait for the next game to come around whether club or international when you strike that type of form. It is great to see.

"At different stages in a campaign or friendlies, you are going to have that in the squad, you are going to have players who are buzzing at their club and others who are having a little tricky spell but that is just natural.

"I know they are good players ultimately, it’s great to see Mikey in particular, we know Adam can score goals, he has shown that already, but for Mikey to leave Celtic and go to West Brom and to really have that impact that he has had, it is great to see.”

Lyon defender Jake O'Brien has received his first call-up to the Ireland senior squad following his impressive form in Ligue 1 this season as well as Middlesbrough midfielder Finn Azaz who also comes into the squad for the first time.

Captain Seamus Coleman returns to the squad for the first time since the 1-0 defeat to France 12 months ago having suffered a knee injury which ruled him out of the rest of the 2023 campaign.

Festy Ebosele, Coleman, Brady and Matt Doherty provide a depth of options at full back which may tempt O’Shea to divert away from the three or five at the back system deployed by his predecessor, Stephen Kenny.

“It’s a good option. It’s a very good option,” he commented.

“But we also have plenty of centre backs in the squad too so whatever shape or formantion we come up with, it will be very flexible, even in terms of …you could have  a back four but you could be building into possession with a three at the back.

"We can float back into, whether we have three at the back with the midfielders dropping in to help out, there is lots of flexibility in the squad and that is key for us because the challenges we will face against Belgium and Switzerland, they are getting close to planning and prepping for a European championships too, so we know we will be facing tough competition but one we are excited about.”

Brady’s recall is an interesting one. Looking at the squad, 17 of the 26 players named are aged 25 or younger.

It may be a new era - for now - but it’s still a very young squad so the addition of the Preston North End man who scored Ireland’s biggest goal of the last decade at EURO 2016 could be a shrewd one from an experience point of view in the absence of Shane Duffy and John Egan.

“A little bit. I wouldn’t say just for that. It’s about his footballing ability first and foremost. I know he is a brilliant character too, but first and foremost it is about his footballing ability.

“He is fit and well and hopefully he gets some gametime at the weekend and we’ll see what happens from there. But as I mentioned, he can play left wing-back, left back, he can play in midfield, there is good versatility to him too, so it’s great to have him back in.”