AND just like that the next international window comes around and so does the biggest test of Stephen Kenny’s tenure to date; a meeting with World Cup runners-up France in a Euro 2024 qualifier at the Aviva Stadium.
The measure of success for the coach will be qualification to next summer’s showpiece event in Germany and failure to achieve that could prove determinantal to his future as the man tasked with leading Ireland’s current football revolution.
But, it isn’t just the senior team that will be tested this month.
A number of underage teams are in action, including the U21s, who are set to play Iceland in a friendly at Turner’s Cross.
Cork will have a major influence on the various national teams that will be competing this month as the squads are filled with homegrown players who once started out in the youth and schoolboy leagues. The senior team is expected to contain a number of local faces, including an in-form Chiedozie Ogbene.
The winger has scored eight goals for Rotherham United in all competitions this year, and this has massively boosted their hopes of staying in the Championship.
The Ireland squad will also see John Egan put on the green jersey following a stellar 2022, a year that established the defender as a regular goal scorer.
Egan is currently going into the final few months of the season and dreaming of a return to the Premier League with Sheffield United and a place in the FA Cup semi-finals as his team are set to play Blackburn Rovers in the next round.
Another player dreaming of the biggest league in world football is Alan Browne, who is in the hunt for a play-off spot with Preston North End.
Caoimhín Kelleher is expected to deputise once more for Gavin Bazunu if he is called up. The goalkeeper, unlike his Southampton equivalent, is noted for lacking regular game-time as he has only made three starts this season for Liverpool.
Once the France game is out the way, Ireland will have to play the Netherlands, Greece, and Gibraltar over the next nine months.
It’s a daunting group that can go any way, and Ireland will have to navigate this while dealing with the pressures coming from their last, unsuccessful, qualification campaign.
The day before France come to Dublin, Jim Crawford will bring his U21s to Cork for a friendly.
This is a unique spectacle as that team rarely ever visits Turner’s Cross, and they will travel down looking to reinvent themselves in the aftermath of their penalty shoot-out defeat to Israel, which stopped them from qualifying for their first-ever European Championships.
The team is set for a grand welcome when they step out at Turner’s Cross as over 4,000 tickets have already been sold for the friendly.
While this is going on, the U19s will be trying to secure their place at this year’s European Championships.
They will play the Elite Phase of the tournament on home soil this March, and Tom Mohan’s team will take on Greece, Estonia, and Slovakia at Ferrycarrig Park in Wexford.
Cork players Mark O’Mahony and Franco Umeh have been crucial to their campaign so far as they combined to score four goals between them during the qualifying tournament last September in Wales.
O’Mahony bagged a hat-trick in their first game against Gibraltar and Umeh followed this up by scoring an injury-time winner against the hosts and that secured qualification to the Elite Round with a game in hand.
The two strikers, who signed for Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace during the January transfer window, will go into the international window after already scoring their first goals with their new clubs.
Another player just getting started is Cork City Academy player Jaden Umeh, who scored a brace for Ireland’s U15s during a 4-0 victory over Wales at the Carlisle Grounds at the start of the month.
March 2023 will see almost all levels of Irish football competing and looking to qualify for major tournaments.
Nearly every team will have some player representing Cork, and it all leads to a fascinating clash with World Cup runners-up France at the end of the month.