Saturday 22 October 2016

Three Irishmen make best young talent in Premier League list

Published 06/10/2015 | 11:45

James Finnerty and Marcus Agyei-Tabi
James Finnerty and Marcus Agyei-Tabi

It's a common talking point in Irish football circles - where is the next Roy Keane or Robbie Keane coming from?

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The Jack Grealish saga has brought the debate up yet again. Can Ireland nurture young talent who will ultimately go on and represent the senior team?

Jack Byrne, the Manchester City youngster currently on loan with SC Cambuur in Holland, is one name that keeps cropping up but Ireland fans will be well aware of young players tipped for big things in the past but who have never fulfilled their potential.

Conor Clifford is one name that springs to mind but in the Guardian's list of 20 of the best young Premier League players, three Irish players are mentioned - Arsenal's Marcus Agyei-Tabi, James Finnerty of Aston Villa and Crystal Palace midfielder Kian Flanagan.

It's probably too early to get too excited, but still good to hear.

Here is what the Guardian had to say about the trio.

Marcus Agyei-Tabi

Impressed last season for Arsenal's Under-18s, this all-round midfielder is best known for holding in front of the back four but he can work off either flank or play behind the striker.

He has trained with the club's first-team squad and is rated by the manager, Arsène Wenger. A Republic of Ireland Under-17 international, who featured at the European Under-17 Championship last May – he qualifies for the Republic through his grandparents – Agyei-Tabi is mature beyond his years.

Tactically aware and always keen to get on the ball and take responsibility, he has quick feet and penetration to his passing.

James Finnerty

Aston Villa have a history of working with young Irish talent and the hope is that Finnerty, a centre-back who came through at the well-known Dublin club Belvedere FC, where he was Under-16 captain, will be the next off the conveyor belt. Finnerty, who also played Gaelic football for Skryne, made an impressive first start for Villa’s Under-18s against Norwich early in September and has featured regularly since then.

This season he has also become a fixture in a Republic of Ireland Under-17 side who began their Uefa Under-17 Championship qualifying campaign promisingly with two clean sheets.

Kian Flanagan

Palace secured Flanagan from Southend as an Under-14 for £37,500 under the Elite Player Performance Plan compensation system and the youngster was promoted to the Under-18s towards the end of last season after an impressive campaign in his own age group.

So impressed was the academy director Gary Issott with Flanagan's impact in his four Under-18 appearances that he named him among his substitutes for the development side's penultimate fixture against Charlton, with the referee blowing for full-time as soon as the attacking midfielder took to the turf.

At least there was a 20-minute cameo at that level the following week. Flanagan is creative and incisive with the ball, talents which alerted Manchester United, West Ham, Chelsea and Arsenal over the summer, when Palace feared they might lose the 16-year-old, who remained on a scholarship contract, for around £50,000.

However, it now seems likely he will remain at the south London club for the foreseeable future and feature regularly for the Under-18s this term. There has been international recognition of his potential: he was called up for the Republic of Ireland's Under-17s friendlies against Hungary recently, playing in both fixtures, and the England junior set-up are also monitoring his progress.

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