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Can Alan Browne become a key player for Ireland?

Eyebrows were raised when Cyrus Christie was selected in midfield recently against Wales and Denmark in the UEFA Nations League.

Martin O’Neill chose to start the right back as a central midfielder for the double header, a decision which reportedly didn’t go down well with other members of the squad.

The Republic of Ireland picked up a scoreless draw against Denmark, before losing 1-0 to Wales in Dublin.

The odds are now against the Boys in Green who face relegation from Division 3 of the Nations League after those disappointing results, seen on different sites in Ireland.

According to Colin Young in The Sunday Independent, the decision to move Christie into midfield caused “bewilderment and resentment” in the camp.

Alan Browne was one player to miss out as a result of Christie’s switch to midfield.

The Preston midfielder didn’t play a minute in either match, despite his continued excellent form in the Championship.

The Boys in Green have been crying out for creativity (and goals) from midfield, which makes Browne’s omission even more frustrating.

Browne scored his fourth league goal of the season against Brentford on Saturday for Alex Neil’s side. The Cork native opened the scoring in the fifth minute, and was also involved in the build up to his international teammate Callum Robinson’s first goal.

Saturday’s strike was Browne’s 10th Championship goal in 2018, the most scored by any midfielder in the division.

In 2018, the 23-year-old has averaged 0.31 goals a game, or 10 goals in 32 appearances.

Browne has a reputation for spectacular goals, but he is also adept at timing his runs into the box – he has scored five headers in 2018 alone.

The Irishman was also nominated for the September Championship Goal of the Month, and recently captained Preston for the first time  against Hull City.

It was another milestone in the blossoming career of a player who was named the Championship club’s player of the year last season.

Given Ireland’s well-documented lack of goalscorers, could Browne become a key player for the Boys in Green?

He operates primarily as an attacking midfielder – or number ten – for Preston, but Martin O’Neill does not often operate with a number 10.

Ireland’s attacking options are limited, and there has been a serious lack of goals in the team since Robbie Keane’s retirement.

Jon Walters is nearing the end of his career, and Shane Long has struggled to find the back of the net for some time.

Browne’s Preston teammates Callum Robinson, Sean Maguire, and Graham Burke are all promising talents, but O’Neill’s side also need midfielders to chip in with more goals.

While James McClean has scored some crucial goals, Robbie Brady has struggled with injuries, and Jeff Hendrick has largely failed to replicate his Eur0 2016 form since that summer in France.

Callum O’Dowda’s form has been hugely encouraging, but Wes Hoolahan’s retirement has left a creative void in the team.

Harry Arter, Cyrus Christie, or James McCarthy aren’t going to contribute many goals, so the addition of a goalscoring midfielder could be crucial for Ireland moving forward.

Browne has yet to score an official goal for the Boys in Green, but he did score a fine goal against Celtic for Ireland in Scott Brown’s testimonial.

The former Cork City midfielder made his debut against Mexico last year, and has won just three international caps to date.

However, he feels his best is yet to come in a green jersey.

“I don’t think I’ve shown what I’m really capable of in the international set-up, but I’m confident of my own ability and I think I can go and show that in the near future,” he said before the 2-0 defeat to France last summer.

That match was a huge step up for Browne, and an inexperienced Irish team endured a difficult night in the Paris rain.

Browne started in midfield alongside Declan Rice and Callum O’Dowda, and was unable to showcase his ability on the ball as the Boys in Green were left chasing shadows for most of the game.

Injury ruled him out of Ireland’s first Nations League clash against Wales, and he has been an unused substitute in the two games since.

However, O’Neill has praised the former underage Irish international in the past.

“He’s a strong-running player, and I think he’s improving,” he said last year.

“It’s nice to see. He’s become a settled fixture now with Preston. Again it’s encouraging.

“He’s obviously got a bit of work to do. There are some midfield players who are possibly in front of him at the moment but he’s got a great attitude.”

At 23, Browne is still developing and improving.

Statistically, he is one of the best attacking midfielders in the Championship, and he is also excellent in the box-to-box role.

He is a strong runner with a good range of passing, and would surely add more creativity to the Irish midfield than Cyrus Christie.

The Preston midfielder has a reputation for spectacular goals, and his record of one goal in every three games in 2018 far surpasses any of his international rivals in O’Neill’s midfield.

Ireland face Northern Ireland next in a friendly on November 15th in Dublin, before travelling to Denmark to face the Danes four days later.

Browne will be hoping to get a chance in at least one of the games, and he certainly deserves an opportunity given his club form.

It’s up to him to take it.

David Smith

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