Monday 25 September 2017

Martinez nurturing bright green talents to shine on biggest stage

Everton's Spanish manager Roberto Martinez PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Everton's Spanish manager Roberto Martinez PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

If Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane are the two most powerful men in terms of shaping Ireland's destiny over the next two years, then Roberto Martinez must surely be next on the list.

The addition of Aiden McGeady to the Everton ranks means that the Spaniard has four of the first names on O'Neill's teamsheet at his disposal.

Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy are indispensable to the new regime's plans, and the latter is likely to be partnered in the engine room by Darron Gibson when he returns from his injury nightmare.

Considering the affection that O'Neill has for McGeady, it's safe to assume that he will be selected when available. There is enough evidence to argue that the Everton now have the four most important 20-somethings on the Irish scene right now.

The seniority of John O'Shea, Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane will be needed for the Euros campaign, but they are at the stage of their careers where they are at the mercy of their bodies. The Everton quartet have the age profile to be key players for the duration of O'Neill's tenure.

Already, the Derry man has acknowledged the limitations of only being able to work with his players for a limited amount of time. Therefore, their growth under Martinez, who speaks to Keane regularly, will have a knock-on effect on Irish fortunes.

They are in good hands.

During the Giovanni Trapattoni era, the message from the top frequently centred around what the members of his squad couldn't do.

In Martinez, this influential group have a leader who oozes belief, and accentuates the positives.

Tomorrow's Merseyside derby at Anfield is the next marquee occasion in a campaign which has propelled McCarthy and Coleman into the spotlight – although the Donegal man is set to miss out through injury – and could eventually do the same for McGeady.

POSITION

Gibson will have to wait with a view to profiting from their final position in the table.

The clustering of Irish players at the same club is by no means a recent phenomenon, but in the globalised Premier League, it's more of a peculiarity.

Hull boss Steve Bruce now has five Irish internationals at his disposal and discussed their qualities after the capture of Shane Long to join David Meyler, Paul McShane, Robbie Brady and Stephen Quinn.

“I did question that I now have five in a squad of 24 which is quite ridiculous, but in their own way they are all terrific lads and I am delighted if we get another one,” said Bruce.

“They have a hunger and desire and they never ever let you down, certainly not on purpose. They might have a drink or two too much but when you have a squad like that you are halfway there.”

The alcohol reference was a quip rooted in an accurate historical command of stereotypes, but it doesn't extend to the younger members of the Everton contingent – Coleman and McCarthy are non-drinkers and tend to let their football do the talking.

“They are all very talented footballers but they all share an incredible attitude, an

incredible appetite for the game,” said Martinez on Saturday when asked about his Irish contingent. “They are the type of ambassadors that we need in our dressing-room.

“It helps when you've got a few players that share the same demands at international level; I like to have that core, it helps, because when they go away on international duty they can support each other.”

The irony of the 40-year-old being heralded as a liberator of Irish talent has been noted considering that he was once demonised for his role in the tug-of-war over McCarthy's future, with conspiracy theories abounding.

Ultimately, the closeness of their relationship was underestimated; the player's family trusted Martinez to say what he felt appropriate, even if the vague comments allied with the communication quirks of Trapattoni bred confusion.

It all worked out in the end and the fact remains that Martinez has done more to develop the 23-year-old than anyone in the FAI.

UNIQUE

The prominence of key Irishmen in a side challenging for a Champions League place is a welcome development, but two of them were produced in Scotland, Gibson came through the Northern Ireland underage structures, while Coleman is a unique case that flew under every radar.

Everton do keep a close eye on the schoolboy scene here and they signed Steven Kinsella from Templeogue United last week following a personal intervention from Martinez.

However, he is known to have general reservations about the technical attributes of youngsters that come across the Irish Sea. He doesn't expect to unearth another McCarthy, a player he views as a rarity in the British game.

“James McCarthy, who has been playing professional football since he was 15, is five, six years ahead of any player of his age,” he said in 2012. “You’re talking about a unique talent and someone who can play in any level of European football.

“I don't think the Irish public have really seen the best of James. They're going to be surprised when they see James playing in 20-25 games at a level that he can be arrogant enough to express himself,” he added prophetically.

Everton fans are enamoured by the assurance of their £13m summer recruit, when a vocal contingent initially questioned the logic of the fee.

Now, he is already part of the furniture, and if he could add a goal or two to his armoury the hype levels would skyrocket.

Coleman has grown in stature within an expansive system.

If Martinez can draw the same level of improvement from McGeady and incorporate the gifted Gibson into his gameplan when he reaches full health, then O'Neill will be a major beneficiary.

Last year's ‘Dublin Decider’ illustrated the depth of support for Liverpool in these parts, but every Irish fan should have a vested interest in Everton's progression.

In the fallout from Poland and the failure to make Brazil, the familiar refrain was that our nation simply didn't have any top-grade players. The guidance of a Spaniard is in the process of altering that perception.

IRISH ON MERSEYSIDE IN PREMIER LEAGUE ERA

LIVERPOOL

Ronnie Whelan (1979-94)

Phil Babb (1994-2000)

Mark Kennedy (1995-98)

Jason McAteer (1995-99)

Steve Staunton (1998-2000 (previously 1986-91)

Steve Finnan (2003-08)

Robbie Keane (2008-09)

Fringe Players: Richie Partridge (2000-05), Darren Potter (2003-07)

EVERTON

Richard Dunne (1996-2000)

Gareth Farrelly (1997-99)

Terry Phelan (1997-00)

Lee Carsley (2002-08)

Kevin Kilbane (2003-06)

Seamus Coleman (2009-)

Darron Gibson (2013-)

James McCarthy (2013-)

Aiden McGeady (2014-)

Fringe players: (Shane Duffy

2009-)

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