Magnificent seven who could revitalise Ireland and prove Roy Keane wrong
Published 18/05/2015 | 02:30
If we think Ireland are stuck for quality at the moment, don't dare look around the corner is the message from Roy Keane.
The Ireland assistant manager recently posted a gloomy outlook for the future of Irish football by highlighting the age-profile of the current first-choice starting team.
A glance at the 33-man squad named by O'Neill this week, which includes only four players born in the 1990s, supports his pessimism.
"It's hard work because we're short of players. We've a small pool to work off," reasoned Keane.
"In our last game against Poland, Robbie Keane was up front and Robbie's 34. John O'Shea at centre-half, he's 34. Shay Given was in goal and I think he's about 64."
In all probability, the three players name-checked by Keane - along with Wes Hoolahan and Jon Walters - will have sailed into international retirement by the time the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign kicks off.
The likes of Jeff Hendrick, Shane Long and, potentially at least, Jack Grealish, will shift from fringe status to regulars at that point, but what of the uncapped bunch following them?
Here, we examine the credentials of seven candidates worthy of entering the international fold over the next couple of campaigns. It's early days for them, but they could yet prove that Keane was wrong with his grim forecast.
Tommie HOBAN (Watford)
Age: 21. Born: London
Currently captain of Noel King's Irish U-21s, the centre-back featured prominently during the Hornets' promotion-clinching campaign. O'Neill has been to watch the cultured defender on several occasions but has chosen to hold off on fast-tracking him for senior duty.
Reece GREGO-COX (QPR)
Age: 18. Born: London
Along with Rangers clubmate and Galwegian Ryan Manning, Grego-Cox was the standout member of Ireland's U-19 squad over the past 12 months.
The dashing winger was handed his Premier League debut by Chris Ramsey and a run of games next year in the Championship could put him into contention for a call-up.
Darragh LENIHAN (Blackburn Rvs)
ge: 21. Born: Dunboyne
After being troubled by back injury for almost two seasons, Lenihan - another product of the Belvedere academy - has just completed an impressive season at club level. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink relied on the midfield powerhouse to lead Burton's successful League Two season during his loan spell there before he figured in Blackburn's final three Championship games. "He's got a really bright future ahead, the boy," says Hasselbaink.
Jack BYRNE (Man City)
Age: 19. Born: Dublin
Long touted as a considerable talent, Byrne has already trained with the City first-team and caught the eye of the club's hierarchy. Patrick Vieira's central role in City's future spells positive news for Byrne, as the Frenchman knows from personal experience how a fiery temper can complement raw talent.
Danny CROWLEY (Arsenal)
Age: 17. Born: Coventry
Having represented both Ireland and England at underage level, Crowley joins Grealish in the ranks of the as-of-yet uncommitted. Still, Arsenal don't fork out €1 million for nothing, so the wait for his full declaration might be worth it. Those operating for the FAI at the coalface of the English game remain confident that Crowley will declare for Ireland.
Ian LAWLOR (Manchester City)
Age: 20. Born: Dublin
This time last year, the goalkeeper was about to crown a memorable season with a senior Ireland call-up for the friendlies in America. The level-headed stopper, however, has discovered the erratic nature of the game this season when a deadline day loan move to Barnsley collapsed because of red tape. He's currently sidelined through injury, but Lawlor's time will surely come.
Sean KAVANAGH (Fulham)
Age: 21. Born: Dublin
Ireland's seemingly incurable problem at left-back could be remedied in time should Kavanagh build on the 23 impressive outings he made for the Cottagers this season. The classy former Belvedere defender has also made that berth his own at U-21 level.