Daniel McDonnell: The Irish winners and losers of the football league we know too well
Published 04/05/2015 | 02:30
Martin O'Neill recently joked he should be the go-to-guy for anybody seeking opinions on the Championship given how many games he's taken in this season.
In an ideal world, the Irish manager would have a squad packed with top flight players but those days have passed.
As it happens, only two players from the second tier, Wes Hoolahan and James McClean, featured in March's draw with Poland but O'Neill is still reliant on that level to fill up the numbers and it's also where he has found new recruits.
Leaving the international perspective aside, the majority of Irishmen earning a living cross channel operate in the levels below the Premier League and this weekend brought down the curtain on a regular season which threw up its fair share of green-tinged tales.
A few shrewd observers had earmarked Arter as a talent but it's fair to say that the speed of his progression has surprised and the midfielder was an integral part of Eddie Howe's masterplan as the best football team in the Championship wound up with the trophy. A glut of goals before Christmas boosted his stats but he's actually quite effective operating from deep and Premier League football now beckons.
He started this season with a low profile at Chesterfield after scoring 13 goals during their ascent from League Two. A spectacular start to the campaign put him on the map with 25 goals before January instigating a battle for his services which Cardiff won. After a slow start in Wales, he registered five in the closing weeks to bring his total for 2014/15 to the 30 goal mark and cap a life-changing nine months.
There's a shortage of young Irish defenders around so Hoban is a name we could be hearing a lot about in the coming years after bouncing back from an ankle injury that halted his teenage progression. The 21-year-old made 30 appearances in a campaign that was interrupted by a six week setback in November, with Watford tending to use him in a 3-5-2 formation.
Whatever happens now, he's performed miracles to get Ipswich into the play-offs on a shoestring budget even if they fell across the line in sixth after looking like automatic promotion candidates at Christmas. A play-off semi-final with arch rivals Norwich adds a novel element to the mix - he will relish entering that tie as underdog.
Similar to McCarthy, his reputation has been enhanced this term regardless of what unfolds from this point onwards. His brace at Blackburn on Saturday, both dispatched with supreme confidence, brought his season's tally to 27 goals, leaving the Waterford man well on top of the goalscoring charts. If Ipswich fail to go up, they could be tempted by a few offers.
His advisors might now be wondering if it's the appropriate juncture to push for a change of scenery. Derby were tipped to win the league but their mental fragility was apparent as they collapsed against Reading to drop out of a top six position for the first time since September and miss the boat. Hendrick is only 23 but he's been around the scene for five seasons and is in danger of getting stuck in a rut at a club that could take a while to recover from successive setbacks.
O'Neill made quite a few trips to Derby earlier this season and Keogh was still voted into the PFA's Team of the Year by his peers. However, with his 29th birthday approaching in August, this disappointment will hit last year's Wembley villain hard. It's also been a sobering period for Cyrus Christie, who lost his form and the support of a section of fans in the second half of the season.
He was voted his employers' player of the season, yet that is of little consolation seeing as Wigan were unsuccessful in the play-offs 12 months ago and expected to be in the shake-up again. Instead, they dispensed with Uwe Rosler and then hired Malky Mackay who managed to further harm his reputation by presiding over a dreadful home record that led to his sacking and the inevitability of the drop. McClean must escape.
What next for the Galwegian? He signed a good contract to stay at Millwall last summer amid interest from elsewhere and there is no relegation clause that cuts his wage or provides an easy exit. One suspects he would have to move to stay in contention for the Irish No1 shirt, especially with Shay Given back in favour at Villa. "Will he stay in League One? I'd be amazed if there isn't interest in him," said Lions boss Neil Harris on Saturday.
The Dubliner made just six appearances with fitness issues striking in September and it's clear Nottingham Forest have missed him. All was rosy in his garden in the second half of 2013 as his Irish exile was ended and he was part of a Forest group with serious designs on returning to the top table. At 32, he can ill afford to waste a season.
To be decided
Jon Douglas is still going strong but Alan Judge is the Brentford player with most to gain from going up via the play-off route as O'Neill seems unconvinced from what he's seen in his current sphere. Wes Hoolahan's free scoring Norwich will fancy their chances and his year will be defined by the outcome.
Below the radar
Waterford lad Derrick Williams was important to Bristol City as they booked a ticket back to the Championship, while Darren Potter scored as MK Dons went up ahead of Preston with Samir Carruthers also involved. At the other end of League One, strikers David Mooney (Leyton Orient) and Graham Burke (Notts County) suffered relegation.
Farren campaign highlights community spirit
Mark Farren turned 33 on Friday, an age where the talented goal poacher should be in full health terrorising defences.
Life is cruel, though, and instead it was the day when his family launched an appeal to raise the €30,000 the Donegal man needs to travel to an elite cancer treatment centre in Germany and undergo surgery with a view to prolonging his life.
Farren has endured hell since he was diagnosed with a brain tumour six years ago, showing remarkable courage to come back and become Derry's record scorer before illness struck again. He is a popular guy, always a pleasure to deal with, and his former team-mates have rallied around him in his time of need. Ruaidhri Higgins travelled to Longford on Saturday with a collection bucket to raise funds for his pal, while James McClean set the ball rolling with a generous donation.
The small Irish football community has a big heart when something like this happens. Get online (and visit gogetfunding.com/project/mark-farrens-treatment-fund) if you wish to contribute to a worthy cause.