Thursday 27 April 2017

Ireland’s class of ’92 finally on the road to better things

Our new generation slowly emerging to offer some hope for the future

Matt Doherty battles it out with Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish during last Friday’s Championship match at Molineux. Photo: Reuters / Andrew Boyers
Matt Doherty battles it out with Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish during last Friday’s Championship match at Molineux. Photo: Reuters / Andrew Boyers
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The look of confusion is etched in the memory; it was clear the name meant absolutely nothing.

You never forget the first time you meet an Irish football fan with no recollection of Gerry Peyton.

This is the sobering reality of ageing - the realisation that the generation that remember every detail of Italia '90, and specifically the name of Packie Bonner's long-serving understudy, are now well into their thirties and beyond and are fooling themselves if they believe there is anything youthful about them.

In today's dressing rooms, the footballer with a clear recollection of that summer is in 'old man' territory.

The game belongs to the Nineties kids now and, when Martin O'Neill was appointed Ireland manager, the dearth of them in the Irish set-up was a serious cause for concern.

It was the easiest reference point in the debate about what the age profile of the senior international squad said about the quality of the production line.

The point still stands, hence the ongoing debate about the best way to improve structures and develop youngsters that can follow Robbie Keane and Damien Duff by properly breaking through as teenagers.

Right now, there is an increasing reliance on the slow burners.

Every so often, journalists will look into the crystal ball and try and predict a national side of the future.

Last summer, the 'Daily Mail' was mocked for their 2007 stab at England's Euro 2016 side. Theo Walcott, Micah Richards and Scott Sinclair were decent guesses; Robbie Threlfall, Dean Parrett and Gavin Hoyte were not.

Torch

Long-range Irish calls might have expected Anthony Stokes and Darron Gibson to be carrying the torch by now.

Seamus Coleman and James McClean, the leading lights of the World Cup campaign to date, probably wouldn't have featured in the top 100 names when they were 18.

They are shining examples of late developers, a compliment to the League of Ireland route, but also an example of how pros with a good attitude and work ethic can outlast other members of their peer group.

O'Neill's current squad has plenty of others in that category, including English-born Jon Walters and Harry Arter, who fell down the football ladder before climbing up again.

Significantly, the same mixture of late developers and resilient characters are steadily starting to make Ireland's Nineties kids look like a better bet to keep things competitive over the next decade.

Take the class of 1992 as an example. They are growing into a decent crop by the standard of the years that preceded them. With the exception of an obvious goalkeeping candidate, it's possible to put together a respectable outfield 10 consisting of players that will turn 30 for Qatar 2022.

Centre-backs Shane Duffy and John Egan are both having excellent seasons in the Championship at new clubs, shining for Brighton and Brentford respectively.

Full-backs Cyrus Christie and Matt Doherty are building decent CVs - the latter has become an invaluable member of the Wolves squad in an unfamiliar left-back role.

In midfield, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick are the leaders of the next generation, having come through the ranks together at St Kevin's Boys. They were always safe bets.

In contrast, another Dubliner, Chris Forrester, wasn't remotely on the radar in his youth because he was a slow convert to organised football.

However, he's another '92 baby that looks set to spend his best days rubbing shoulders with the elite. Peterborough are expected to cash in on their bargain buy.

Preston's new boy Daryl Horgan was born two days after Michael Carruth won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics, and it doesn't appear as though he will be punching above his weight in his new surroundings.

Then there's Patrick McEleney, who is very much on the IFA's radar, but is still eligible for Republic of Ireland selection.

There's quite a few people involved with Dundalk who expect that McEleney will be the next to follow in the footsteps of Richie Towell and Horgan.

The striking situation is complicated, with Scott Hogan, a child of Salford, taking his time about committing to green.

It's by no means a golden generation - Hendrick is the only current Premier League player among them - yet there is a solid core from disparate backgrounds that are improving with age.

The kids of 1993, 1994 and 1995 are gradually making an impact too; the modern Irish way is to blossom late.

Suddenly, the future is starting to look a little brighter.

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