Every Friday, Caolán Conroy provides his take on different sporting developments across the UK and Ireland, and shares his predictions for match-ups ahead. This week he looks at the crucial World Cup Playoffs and selects his combined All-Ireland XI.

This is a huge weekend of sport, one which the sporting calendar throws up from time to time. It’s a weekend where all plans must be cancelled and sport becomes the priority. We have World Cup playoffs, Rugby Autumn Internationals, Internationals Rules with Ireland v Australia and Ulster Club GAA action to look forward to. If you haven’t already, book your spot on the couch or a table at the local because, like us here at Northern Slant, you’re in for the long haul.

Due to this being a huge weekend for Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland I have decided to treat you to an International special.

World Cup playoffs – The dream still alive

Northern Ireland suffered a blow to their World cup ambitions on Thursday night after their 1–0 defeat to Switzerland in Belfast. I won’t even go there with the penalty decision (I think Corry Evan’s wife said more than enough) but unlike the majority I still believe Northern Ireland have a good opportunity to qualify. Their chances are slim, but if the Swiss are complacent there is no better team to cause a shock and sneak a goal or possibly two in Basel.

The return leg is taking place on Sunday, the night after the Republic of Ireland take on Denmark in Copenhagen in the first leg of their playoff. The Republic will be up against it, but if they can keep it tight in Copenhagen and score an away goal they will have a great opportunity of sealing qualification in front of their home fans on Tuesday night.

All of the Republic’s best performances in qualification were played away from home. It’s very conceivable that they can achieve a result from their away trip, although from a fan’s point of view it would be worrying if they had to play the second leg looking to hold out for a goalless draw. The Republic have shown over the last couple of years that they perform better when the pressure is on and they know they need to win.

Recently there has been a lot of coverage surrounding what a Catalan XI would look like if they had independence. It got me thinking about what an all-Ireland football best eleven would be if we had a similar situation as we have with our Rugby and Hockey teams. Here is my ‘very attacking’ first XI selection and sub bench. Let me know what you think.

Formation 4-3-3

Goalkeeper – Darren Randolph: Probably the most competitive position. There isn’t much between Randolph, Michael McGovern, Rob Elliott or Kieran Westwood. Randolph for me just gets the nod; unlike McGovern he’s number one at his club and has, ‘touch wood’, never let down Ireland since he took over as number one just over two years ago.

Right Back – Seamus Coleman: Couldn’t really be anyone else, could it?

Centre Back – Shane Duffy: Playing the football of his career at the moment, he’s been a leading light at the heart of the Brighton team in their debut season in the Premier League. Looked shaky at the beginning of qualification and too keen to take risks. Since a costly mistake against Moldova, Duffy has matured into one of the squad’s leaders and is a certain starter in my team. He’s a nightmare for defender when up for set pieces. He needs to improve his distribution and is often too eager to play long balls but that will come.

Centre Back – Jonny Evans (Captain): Would be the perfect partner for Duffy. Can do everything required of a defender and is a threat in both boxes.

Left Back – Chris Brunt: Tough call between the West Brom man and Stephen Ward. Brunt just gets the nod because of his quality of delivery.

Right Centre Midfield – Jeff Hendrick: Improved vastly in last three years and a favourite of Martin O’Neill. He has been impressive for Burnley this season but was quiet in qualification until an outstanding display against Wales.

Centre Midfield – Steven Davis: The maestro in midfield, this team needs a ball-playing midfielder, and who better than the Southampton man.

Left Midfield – Robbie Brady: Like Hendrick, he struggled to replicate his Euros form during the group stage. However, his set piece delivery is excellent and composure on the ball gets him in ahead of Oliver Norwood.

Right Wing Forward – Josh Magennis: Many of you will be questioning this selection but every time I see him play I’m impressed. I like his versatility; he can play anywhere across the front line.

Centre Forward – Jonathan Walters: Mr reliable would be one of the first names on the team sheet. He ain’t getting any younger but he is the heart beat of the Ireland team. He will be a massive miss in the playoffs.

Left Wing Forward – James McClean: Stand-out performer in the playoffs and scored four crucial goals. Let’s hope he can control his passion and give another huge performance this weekend.

Subs: Michael McGovern, Gareth McAuley, Oliver Norwood, David Meyler, Shane Long, Conor Washington, Callum O’Dowda.


Irish Hockey on the rise

Irish women’s hockey team recently qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2002. They now join the men who qualified for only the third time in their history, and first since 1990. It’s also the first time both men and women’s team have qualified for the World Cup in the same year. Over the next few weeks we will be taking a closer look at Hockey in Ireland.


Weekend predictions

World Cup play off, first Leg. Denmark v Republic of Ireland: 1-1

World Cup play-off, second leg. Switzerland v Northern Ireland: 0- 1 (NI to win on penalties)

World Cup play-off, second leg. Republic Of Ireland v Denmark: 1- 0 (ROI to win 2-1 on aggregate)

International Rules Series first test. Australia v Ireland, Adelaide Oval: Australia 60 – 50 Ireland

Rugby Autumn Internationals. Ireland v South Africa: Ireland 23 – 15 South Africa

Ulster club SFC semi-final. Slaughtneil v Kilcar: Draw

Ulster club SFC semi-final. Derrygonnelly v Cavan Gaels: Cavan Gaels by 5