Kevin Doyle’s fast-track to the top
Kevin Doyle's elevation to the position of captain of Ireland's international team in tonight's friendly against South Africa in Thomond Park represents another significant advance in an extraordinary success story.
His rapid climb to the top will be celebrated by all those who have admired the manner in which he has always competed from the days he played under-age football in his native Wexford.
It was entirely predictable that this modest young man should have expressed genuine surprise when manager Giovanni Trapattoni announced his selection. And the self-effacing statement he made when speaking of his pride and satisfaction was totally in character.
"It's a massive honour" said Doyle, "my first time to captain my country. It came as a big of a shock, it never entered my head as I've only been a few years in the squad.
"Very few people get to captain their country and the fact that it is a friendly game doesn't make any difference to me; I want to remember it and relish it. I am delighted."
Doyle played in the League of Ireland with St. Patrick's Athletic and Cork City. He was transferred to Reading together with Shane Long and this Summer he moved on to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Along the way he proved himself a prolific goal-scorer. And while applauding his goals, Irish fans were also mindful of the manly manner in which he competed, his courage and his honest work-rate.
Doyle will lead an experimental Irish team against South Africa who will, of course, compete in the World Cup finals next year as hosts. The match represents a great opportunity for Ireland's back-up players to stake a claim to a place in the squad should Ireland go on to qualify for the World Cup.
Irish fans will welcome the opportunity of seeing a number of promising youngsters - Eddie Nolan, who is still eligible for U21 football, Andy Keogh, Sean St. Ledger, Keiren Westwood amongst them.
Liam Lawrence is a player who has shown he could be a live contender for accommodation on the right of midfield for Ireland. As well as showing he can deliver quality crosses, he has also shown a talent for scoring goals with Stoke City.
Darron Gibson will look to improve on his recent performance against Australia at Thomond Park and his midfield partner, Keith Andrews, will be expected to show the benefits of an extended run with Ireland by assuming a leadership role in this vital position. Andrews has done enough to suggest he can grow to become a big force with Ireland.
A good performance from Caleb Folan might well influence Trapattoni into accepting that he is first in line if the manager has to look for an alternative to Doyle or Robbie Keane and defenders Stephen Kelly, Paul McShane and St. Ledger will appreciate that this is opportunity time for them with critical World Cup qualifiers against Italy and Montenegro looming large on Ireland's calendar.
Said Trapattoni: "The opportunity is there to widen the squad because if a regular player is missing it is important that someone else can play with personality in that position."
Irish fans will watch with interest to see how many of the young team led by Kevin Doyle will show the required "personality" tonight.
The Ireland starting team to face South Africa is: Keiren Westwood (Coventry City); Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Sean St. Ledger (Preston North End), Paul McShane (Hull City), Eddie Nolan (Preston North End); Liam Lawrence (Stoke City), Darron Gibson (Manchester United), Keith Andrews (Blackburn Rovers), Andy Keogh (Wolves); Kevin Doyle (Wolves) - captain, Caleb Folan (Hull City).
Tuesday, 08 September 2009: Republic of Ireland v South Africa, Thomond Park 7.30 pm