Top ten commodities in League of Ireland
Crown jewels shine amid rubble, writes Daniel McDonnell
DESPITE a well-documented period of financial turmoil, the League of Ireland has retained a degree of attractiveness this winter for clubs across the water looking to do some shopping.
Generally, the league is viewed as a cheap enough area to pick up promising talent, with the unique aspect of Pat Fenlon's troubled flirtation with Dundee United being the fact that an Irish club actually managed to price suitors out of a deal.
Nevertheless, two members of Fenlon's title-winning Bohs team have graduated straight into the first-team picture at their new clubs in the Championship, with Brian Murphy and Gary Deegan welcomed at Ipswich and Coventry respectively.
Allied with the examples of Jay O'Shea and Keith Fahey in the previous 12 months, in addition to David Meyler's eventual emergence at Sunderland, it proves that the LOI is still capable of providing ready-made talent for big clubs across the water. Clubs that began to pay far more attention to the Irish market after the success of Kevin Doyle and Shane Long, amongst others.
Meanwhile, concerns over the viability of full-time football here has also benefited sides in League One and League Two who are recruiting players who probably wouldn't have left Ireland for such options a couple of years ago; with Joe Gamble's move to Hartlepool a clear example borne of frustration with Cork and a desire for security rather than a yearning to sample life in the north-east of England.
Naturally, the long list of departures begs the question:Is there anything left for English and leading Scottish clubs to plunder?
Certainly, the talent pool is not as deep, but there are still individuals earning a living on these shores who will command interest as the imminent new season progresses.
Here, we look at 10 League of Ireland figures who are sure to be on the radar.
An obvious one in the circumstances, with Fenlon unhappy at being blocked from taking the vacant job with Dundee United.
A four-year contract signed last January left him without an escape option, however, with an amendment to that deal set to give the Dubliner an agreed avenue when similar attention arises in the future.
And it really is a case of when rather than if, with the praise lavished upon Fenlon in Scottish circles during the dalliance with Dundee United enhancing his profile after initially emerging from the shadows as a dark horse.
However, with an extremely strong squad assembled at Dalymount Park for the new campaign, the prospect of another European tilt to atone for last year's Red Bull Salzburg heartbreak could well convince Fenlon to stick around a bit longer if further advances are made in the summer.
The Hoops manager was mentioned in conjunction with the Dundee United post as well, yet his managerial pedigree is certainly less distinguished than Fenlon at this juncture.
However, the fact that he spent the majority of his playing career at the upper echelons of the English and Scottish leagues means that he will be viewed as less of a gamble in some quarters.
The 40-year-old is happy at Tallaght at the moment and has plenty to look forward to this season. But if his side go one better in the league, or make some kind of mark in Europe, then it's inevitable that he will be courted.
Ask Fenlon or Bohs captain Owen Heary who their player of the season was last term, and they'll assert that Keegan was the man.
The ex-Leeds youth arrived at Dalymount Park via Drogheda and the holding midfielder slotted into his role with ease. Most of best work goes unseen, with his positional awareness appreciated by his colleagues, and the 25-year-old still has time on his side to make a mark at a higher level. If Fenlon secured a job across the water, it wouldn't be a surprise if he dialled Keegan's number shortly afterwards.
The powers that be in Tallaght know that if Twigg continues his goalscoring form this year and avoids second-season syndrome, then the bigger clubs in his native Scotland will take notice -- in addition to the Championship sides alerted by his prolific spree for the Dubliners.
That's why they wisely extended his contract during 2009, meaning that he is tied to the south Dublin side for a further three years.
Twigg (25) fits the classic profile of players who have graduated from the League of Ireland in recent times -- he had plenty of ability in his youth and lined out for Derby in the Premiership as a teenager before losing his confidence and drifting around the clubs. He's back on track now.
Specialist left-backs are a precious commodity in the game nowadays, so Powell is sure to make a good living from the game.
The Portmarnock lad has improved rapidly during his five years at Bohemians, whom he joined after making a big impression at Belvedere, and he managed to grab the eye of Giovanni Trapattoni last season, with the Italian aware he needs a long-term option.
Has committed to Bohs for one more year, with the understanding being that he will move to England next winter. Like Everton's ex-Sligo man Seamus Coleman, his energetic attacking style makes the 22-year-old stand out from other full-backs.
They may spend this season in the First Division after their dramatic implosion, but Derry City at least have some promising youngsters who can help lift spirits.
Manager Stephen Kenny is convinced he has a couple that have a real opportunity to become leading figures in the league and Shane McEleney is to the forefront. The Irish U-19 international centre-half was given game-time towards the end of the 2009 campaign and will take a prominent role in the new era on Foyleside.
While Twigg understandably grabbed the headlines for his goalscoring feats, the ex-Hearts defender was as important at the other end when he managed to avoid injury.
The 23-year-old was well regarded in his youth in Scotland but, a series of setbacks left him contemplating early retirement before O'Neill offered a new start in Ireland. His former admirers in Scotland won't have forgotten him.
The former Belvedere player had the option to join Burnley last summer but bucked a trend by refusing the terms offered, opting instead to join First Division title-chasers UCD and proceed with his education.
The midfielder went straight from schoolboy football into the UCD first team that went on to win automatic promotion and the gifted left-footer, with a keen eye for goal, should develop further in the Premier Division in 2010.
Adversity at Bohs worked to Madden's advantage last year. Sent on loan to Shels at the beginning of the year, the smaller squad at Fenlon's disposal meant that Madden had to be recalled at the mid-season point and from there he grew into a first-team player, displacing Glen Crowe, who has since left the club.
The lively striker has plenty of ability, although he has been told to improve his link play and work outside the box. His promotion to the Irish U-21 side will increase his stock.
Conneely is already in the Irish U-21 set-up and his versatility has led to a centre-back deployment, even though some of his better football with his club has stemmed from his performances as a right-back.
The 21-year-old is also proficient in midfield. New Galway boss Sean Connor says that Conneely will feature in maroon this term. However, given the cashflow problems at Terryland Park, it would be optimistic to suggest that he will be there for the long haul.