Wednesday 29 March 2017

Improving Ciaran Clark and Seamus Coleman's sliding door - How the Irish fared on the opening weekend

This could be the season where the perception of the 25-year-old Ciaran Clark starts to change
This could be the season where the perception of the 25-year-old Ciaran Clark starts to change
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It is foolish to draw conclusions from the first weekend of any league season, but this column intends to do just that.

Perhaps, this comes from the weary familiarity of following the Irish across the water in an era where we are short of stars mixing it with league title contenders.

The absence of young players knocking on the door means we have a rough idea of the recurring themes that will crop up over the next nine months.

An unfortunate lack of potential surprise packages, a consequence of a faulty production line, suggests that a familiar cast will provide the Irish angles.

Saturday threw up some talking points that look set to be a feature of this campaign.

Ciaran Clark is improving

With Aston Villa awarding him a new five-year contract and Kenny Cunningham singing his praises, this could be the season where the perception of the 25-year-old starts to change.

He was Setanta's man of the match in his club's opening-day win at Bournemouth and, aside from one first-half moment where Irish-qualified Callum Wilson caught him toe for toe, Clark was impressive.

After being tipped for a top career in his youth, he had developed a reputation as a disciplinary nightmare prone to rash decisions. He's ready for the next phase now; if he continues on the upward curve which started last term then Martin O'Neill will suddenly be fielding questions about him.

Coleman's sliding door

On a day where Italian right-back Matteo Darmian made an assured debut for Manchester United, Seamus Coleman was engaged in another frustrating Everton affair.

The Goodison Park natives were restless in the draw with Watford, believing they were watching a repeat of any number of matches from the previous season as Everton kept the ball but failed to dominate lesser opposition.

While his younger colleague John Stones is the subject of serious transfer speculation - and appears happy enough with that - the loyal Coleman must wonder if Darmian is benefiting from his reluctance to rock the boat when United were circling.

Delaney's Indian summer

Could Damien Delaney be the highest placed Irishman in the final league table? It's not that outlandish a prediction given how Crystal Palace have shopped over the summer.

Alan Pardew's boys were helped by the officials as they collected full points from Norwich, but 34-year-old Delaney was in the right place to complete a choreographed set-piece move and get off the mark.

He is out of the Irish picture after discussing his situation with O'Neill; the Derryman preferred other options and if Clark continues to blossom then it's not exactly a problem area.

Still, the Corkman's bonus chapter is a testament to his professionalism.

John O'Shea, who is just three months older than him, was benched by Dick Advocaat on Saturday although he may regain his place after their horror show at Leicester.

McCarthy magic has limits

Ipswich were on their way to three points at Brentford until they inexplicably conceded twice in time for a 2-2 draw.

After two successive promotion tilts without spending any money, it is surely too much to ask of Mick McCarthy to make it third time lucky. He sold bargain buy Tyrone Mings for £8m this summer but the money has not gone into the transfer kitty. Daryl Murphy's contract was extended, but Ipswich can't be relying on another 27-goal haul from the Waterford man.

McCarthy fielded two rookie teenagers at Brentford and is working off a small squad largely made up of free-transfer signings. They will struggle to keep up with the pace unless the chequebook comes out.

Pompey will keep winning

Former Sligo Rovers boss Paul Cook left Chesterfield to drop down to League Two with a view to bringing Portsmouth back up the divisions.

After a staggering fall from grace since winning the FA Cup in 2008, Pompey have regrouped and now have a few quid to spend with healthy support levels helping that cause - 16,948 turned up to watch them outclass Dagenham & Redbridge 3-0.

Cook has used his Irish contacts and knowledge to sign players that have operated at a much higher level.

The addition of midfield enforcer Michael Doyle and ex-Shamrock Rovers and Aston Villa left back Enda Stevens has strengthened his hand and Brian Murphy was signed just before the Dagenham game to give Cook a goalkeeper of real quality. Don't be surprised if he goes green again to boost a squad that should win their division.

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