By Ronan Murphy
The ink on the obituaries of Giovanni Trapattoni's tenure as Republic of Ireland manager will be well dry by the time the Boys in Green take to the field against Germany at the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne on Friday night. Interim manager Noel King has been chosen as the man to shepherd Ireland through the exit doors of World Cup qualification, as many players look towards the future. However, for others, the two qualifiers over the next week could mark a turning point in their international careers.
No one player benefitted more from Trapattoni's stint in charge as Ireland boss than Stoke City's Glenn Whelan. The Italian awarded the midfielder his international debut in May 2008 against Serbia, and the Dubliner has gone on to play a further 50 times in the green jersey.
However, the return from exile of Darron Gibson and, to a lesser extent, Andy Reid could jeopardise Whelan's chances of adding to that tally. Whelan finds himself on the fringes of his club side, having started just one game under new manager Mark Hughes, and will need to impress any possible Trapattoni successor over the next 180 minutes if he is retained in the centre of the park.
The withdrawal of Robbie Brady from King's initial squad has given Paul Green another opportunity to stake his claim for a regular place in the squad. The Leeds United midfield man was often made a scapegoat by the media for his constant inclusion in Trapattoni's panels, and was further victimised when he was brought on ahead of Gibson at Euro 2012 - provoking the Everton midfielder into semi-retirement. Green is unlikely to feature against Germany, but should he impress in training, a run-out at home to Kazakhstan is a possibility.
Goalkeeper David Forde should bring his cap haul to 14 in the next five days, but probably would have been Keiren Westwood's understudy had the Sunderland stopper been fit. Forde will be 35 by the time Euro 2016 rolls around, and looks destined to be dislodged by his younger counterpart. However, a clean sheet in Cologne could definitely give the next Ireland manager some selection headaches.
Fight for places | Former stalwart Kevin Doyle will be keen to impress
Similarly, the rest of the old guard will need to prove that they are still essential to the make-up of any future squads. Captain Robbie Keane has continued to get his name on the scoresheet at both club and international level since moving to the United States, but many coaches view Major League Soccer with disdain.
Despite his youthful appearance, Reading defender Stephen Kelly has recently turned 30, and having never been first-choice during his seven years as an international footballer, he will have to work extremely hard to remain in contention.
Former stalwart Kevin Doyle now plies his trade in the third tier of English football, and has not been setting League One alight with his recent form for Wolverhampton Wanderers, yielding just two goals in nine appearances this season. The Wexford-born striker has also turned 30, and needs to start performing well on a regular basis if he is to keep his place in the squad ahead of younger Trapattoni-era forwards Simon Cox, Conor Sammon, Andy Keogh, and Paddy Madden.
King is likely to field his strongest XI against Germany on Friday evening, with many viewing the game as an inevitable defeat, but a good performance from any of these fringe players could ensure they remain regulars in the green jersey for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.