Sport Soccer

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Irish stories to watch out for this season

Daniel McDonnell looks at the main Irish plotlines to follow in the 2014/15 Premier League campaign

Published 11/08/2014 | 02:30

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James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman
Shane Long
Marc Wilson

The Corkman is back in the Premier League for the first time since his departure from Sunderland in 2008. Speaking at an event in UCC earlier, Keane took umbrage at any suggestion that he might be considering a No 2 role as a long-term vocation, pointing out that his decision to partner Martin O'Neill offered a unique opportunity to learn from an experienced boss.

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However, after getting a taste for the game again, he has accepted a role working under Paul Lambert that will run in tandem with his Irish commitments. The dynamic should be fascinating. Lambert is only a year older than Keane and is under a fair bit of pressure, so it's not as though the Irishman is watching a master at work.

There's also the unstable situation at the club which could put both their positions in jeopardy if a fresh owner came in with new ideas. Keane wants to further his experience on the coaching ground away from the limelight. But his profile makes it hard for any of his endeavours to be low-key.

2. SEAMUS COLEMAN AND JAMES MCCARTHY'S CAREER GRAPH

In the campaign leading up to Euro 2012, Coleman suffered a little from 'second-season syndrome' following an outstanding breakthrough year at Everton that wound up with him on the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist.

After playing his way into his peers' chosen XI of last term, his challenge now is to build on it and make that excellence the norm. McCarthy has to add a few more goals his game to garner the same kind of attention; he ticks most of the other boxes and, at 23, can also aspire to Champions League level in the future.

3. ROBBIE BRADY

STARTS AGAIN

The Dubliner kicked off his first full Premier League campaign with Hull like he was ready to take it by storm, scoring four times before the end of September in all competitions.

Then, a hernia issue led into a recurring groin problem that turned the rest of his season into a disaster. So, in some ways, the ex-Manchester United youth is back to square one, set with the task of showing that he is capable of cutting it from the top level.

He's missed the early steps of the Martin O'Neill tenure, but a fully-fit version of the attacking midfielder would strengthen the options at his disposal

4. SHANE LONG'S DOUBLE-FIGURE CHALLENGE

It's been a mixed few years for the Tipp lad, and he finally starts this season where he wants to be; as the main man for a top-flight operation.

At West Brom, he probably should have enjoyed that security, yet the speculation about his standing proved true when the Baggies were willing to cash in.

Hull stole a march on other interested Premier League clubs by making a strong play to bring the 27-year-old to Humberside.

Now, he needs to repay their faith by hitting double figures this term.

5. DARRON GIBSON'S EVERTON BATTLE

The Derryman was the forgotten man of last season with a dreadful knee injury sustained on international duty in October bringing down the curtain early.

Fitness issues had prevented him from featuring in Roberto Martinez's early matches and, in his absence, loanee Gareth Barry and his international colleague McCarthy struck up a solid midfield partnership.

Barry has now made his switch permanent and there are no indications that Martinez is going to dramatically change the shape of his team, so it remains to be seen where Gibson, better suited to a deep-lying role, slots into his plans.

6. NO EXCUSES FOR

AIDEN MCGEADY

This is another Everton angle, summing up the extent to which their fortunes are tied in with Irish ambitions – and don't forget Shane Duffy either.

McGeady's move to Goodison Park in January was a bonus as he was initially pencilled in for a summer free from Spartak. He arrived short of match fitness which gave him a pass for some early sloppiness and it was then hard for the Glaswegian to break into a team that was doing well.

Martinez has spoken highly of him, but he will also expect more from his recruit now he's fully sharp.

7. JACK GREALISH KNOCKS ON THE DOOR

James McCarthy and Brady are the only Irish '90s kids to really be sure of their place in a top-flight structure and that's why there is so much interest in the development curve of Grealish, an English-born teenager who made his Villa debut in a sub cameo at Man City at the tail end of a campaign he spent on loan at Notts County.

He may have to go elsewhere initially to get games, but this creative midfielder is a unique talent and, with Keane watching at work every day, O'Neill will be fully informed of his development.

8. MARC WILSON'S OPPORTUNITY

Injury to Robert Huth allowed the Aghagallon man to enjoy an extended run in the Potters' first team as a centre-half next to Ryan Shawcross.

The versatile label has helped the ex-Portsmouth man to establish himself as an invaluable squad member, but there comes a point where it is better to be assured in one spot so it'll be interesting to see where Mark Hughes places the 26-year-old this term. O'Neill came in with ideas about Wilson for the heart of the defence as well, but he could end up needing him more at left-back.

9. RICHARD DUNNE'S

LAST HURRAH?

Dunne was awesome at Wembley, throwing his body in the way of everything Derby pelted in the direction of the QPR rearguard. It set the veteran up for a last crack at the Premier League, strengthened by the contract he triggered by making over 30 appearances. Alas, Harry Redknapp's addition of Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker has placed a question mark over the extent of the Tallaght man's involvement. His decision to step away from Irish duty illustrates his determination to give it his best shot.

10. CAN DAMIEN DELANEY DO IT AGAIN?

Dunne's retirement from Irish action and the dilemma surrounding Wilson's positioning leads into last term's surprise success story. Delaney, who turned 33 this summer, seized the unexpected Premier chance that came his way by starring for Crystal Palace in their charge away from the trap door under the guidance of Tony Pulis. If he can follow it up then he becomes a serious option for competitive international recognition at the tail end of his career.

Irish Independent Supplement

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