Daniel McDonnell ranks the Premier League's top 25 Irish players
The Premier League season will not be remembered as a vintage year for its Irish participants.
A total of 25 players made top-flight appearances during the campaign and, unfortunately, nine of those are scheduled to be lining out at a different level next term as it stands. Steven Reid has retired while the youngest name on the list, Jack Grealish, could be ineligible for next year's ranking of our top-flight performers.
Harry Arter, Tommie Hoban and Wes Hoolahan have secured promotion with the anticipation they will be involved regularly and Eunan O'Kane and Sean Murray may yet force their way back into the picture at Bournemouth and Watford respectively. But as Martin O'Neill builds towards the most important game of his tenure - the Aviva date with Scotland on Saturday week - he is working with a group that has enjoyed limited success at the highest level this term.
Here's the Irish chart from a year short of big hits:
1 - James McCarthy (Everton)
League appearances 28 (1 as sub)
It's actually quite difficult to pinpoint one player as the outstanding Irish performer and, in a way, McCarthy's importance to Everton was illustrated when he was absent. He's an excellent Premier League player and has progressed on the attacking side to shine in a period of his career that has been interrupted by hamstring issues.
2 - Jon Walters (Stoke)
League appearances 32 (4)
Walters deserves a high position considering that a question mark hovered over his Stoke future last August. The model pro proved himself to Mark Hughes by fighting for his place and then delivering a consistent level of performance which culminated with eight league goals and top spot in the Irish scoring charts for 2014/15.
3 - Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace)
League appearances 29 (1)
He's effectively dropped out of the international scene with O'Neill preferring other options, yet his belated development into a trustworthy Premier League centre-half is an impressive tale and another solid year finished with a new contract offer from Alan Pardew.
4 - Seamus Coleman (Everton)
League appearances 35 (1)
He set an incredibly high bar last term. Nevertheless, an average season in his book would be considered an excellent effort for others. He's well used to transfer speculation and this summer may be an appropriate window to consider his next move.
5 - Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
League appearances 17 (10)
Regrettably, this may be the last time that Grealish appears in the review of the Irish Premier League players with his international future up in the air. It was a cause of much excitement when a member of our U-21 squad took to the highest level like a natural. Alas, the creative talent that is needed may end up in Roy Hodgson's plans.
6 - Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)
League appearances 25 (3)
This was a big season in the progression of the centre-half and it's just a dreadful shame that injury brought a premature end to it, meaning that he missed out on the chance of an FA Cup final appearance. Still, there are signs that the 25-year-old is ready to deliver on his undoubted potential.
7 - Glenn Whelan (Stoke)
League appearances 28 (2)
Signed a two-year extension to his deal in January which is a testament to how he is perceived by those who work with him regularly at Stoke. Like Walters, he has earned some new-found respect from Stoke fans too. He is an important cog in the wheel of a top-half side, and that's why it should be no surprise that he's an automatic selection for his country.
8 - Shane Long (Southampton)
League appearances 32 (16)
The Tipp man is entitled to feel pretty chuffed with his £12million switch to Southampton last summer as he ended up the highest-placed Irishman in the league table and avoided Hull's misery. It took him a while to adjust to his new home and he's been deprived of a sustained run in his preferred central striking berth. Still, he finished up the year in good form.
9 - Shay Given (Aston Villa)
League appearances 3 (0 as sub)
It's unusual to have someone in the top ten after so few top-flight appearances but the bigger picture with Given is that his stirring displays in Villa's FA Cup win eventually restored him to first choice for club and country so for that reason he can reflect on a 12 months which has improved his standing. That's significant.
10 - Robbie Brady (Hull)
League appearances 27 (10)
Just as he was beginning to settle into regular football at this level, Brady must now cope with the prospect of a return to the Championship. The Dubliner overcame a series of niggles to get a run in the team, primarily as a left wing-back, and he can be satisfied enough with his own efforts.
11 - John O'Shea (Sunderland)
League appearances 36 (0)
A turbulent campaign produced a happy ending as O'Shea's experience was evident in the draw at Arsenal that kept the Black Cats afloat. He endured some rough afternoons in a leaky defence but regular observers feel he was often compromised in trying to cover for others. He's certainly performed well for Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
12 - Marc Wilson (Stoke)
League appearances 27 (2)
Wilson is part of the furniture at the Britannia Stadium, although he is not unfamiliar with spending a few afternoons on the bench. He is established as a centre-half for Ireland, but it would be a stretch to say he made giant strides forward in red and white during this season. A sending-off at Swansea earlier this month showed that he is capable of an off-day but he'll be important to Ireland in the coming five years.
13 - Richard Dunne (QPR)
League appearances 23 (1)
His season turned around when QPR switched to a system that suited and, while they have opted to release him and start afresh, he can depart with his head held high unlike so many of his club colleagues. Defied original prognosis to return from a setback that ruled him out for most of February and March - a key window. There's definitely another year left in the legs with reports of his retirement inaccurate.
14 - Stephen Quinn (Hull)
League appearances 28 (11)
His contractual situation is up for discussion and it's possible that he could explore his options elsewhere even though Hull have offered terms. Quinn was praised locally for dogged efforts and he made more outings this season than last. O'Neill is an admirer of his talent and, from a personal perspective, it's been a productive enough stretch for the 29-year-old.
15 - Paul McShane (Hull)
League appearances 20 (1)
He went from persona non grata at Hull over the Christmas period to an important defensive player in the doomed battle against the drop. McShane emerged with his reputation intact, and there was dismay on Humberside when Steve Bruce decided to release him and keep on his son Alex. The 29-year-old will certainly be in demand.
16 - Aiden McGeady (Everton)
League appearances 16 (6)
Last August, he was in Roberto Martinez's first XI in the opener at Leicester and marked the occasion with a goal. Alas, he failed to build on it and became a punchbag for frustrated Everton fans. The criticisms weren't always fair but his boss was slow to offer a recall when he came back from a long lay-off. At least a match-winning assist at West Ham on the penultimate weekend provided a positive conclusion to a testing period.
17 - David Meyler (Hull)
League appearances 28 (9)
It's as you were with Meyler really. His club boss sporadically places his faith in the Cork lad and he turned to him in the final weeks of the season. In the end, he wound up starting half of their Premier League matches and remains a fringe member of the Ireland squad. Might benefit from a full season in the Championship.
18 - Stephen Ireland (Stoke)
League appearances 18 (7)
Remember when we used to obsess about the Corkman? That was a different era, a time where the view was forming that he would grow into one of the top creative talents in England. Ireland has only ever played in the Premier League, which is laudable, yet he's very much a middle-of-the-road performer these days.
19 - Reece Grego-Cox (QPR)
League appearances 4 (3)
In a strange way, QPR's exit could be good news from an Irish perspective as manager Chris Ramsey appears willing to promote youths and Grego-Cox should figure regularly in the Championship. The speedy 18-year-old was bright in his brief contributions and is looking like a fine recruit to the green jersey. Galwegian Ryan Manning might also profit from the slide down the ladder.
20 - Steven Reid (Burnley)
League appearances 7 (6)
He would have preferred to draw the curtain on his football career following a successful relegation fight and a stack of appearances, yet it didn't quite work out that way for the Irish Independent columnist. Still, he called it quits on his own terms and as a Premier League player.
21 - Rob Elliot (Newcastle)
League appearances 3 (0)
A chance to leave his mark on a typically chaotic Newcastle season came his way before Christmas when Tim Krul was sidelined. Elliot came into the fray and then disaster struck as he managed to injury himself and pass up the opportunity to put pressure on the Dutchman. Rookie Jak Alnwick floundered and the status quo was restored when Krul healed.
22 - Stephen Ward (Burnley)
League appearances 9 (2)
A positive move to Burnley was ruined by a poorly-timed injury just as he was beginning to force his way into Sean Dyche's plans. When the ex-Wolves man returned to fitness he couldn't get back into the team and he won't reflect on this season with any great fondness.
23 - Kevin Long (Burnley)
League appearances 1 (1)
One of the real hard-luck stories of the season as the Cork man was summoned from the bench for a Premier League debut at Newcastle United on New Year's Day only to sustain a serious knee ligament injury within a matter of minutes of coming on. After patiently waiting for an opening in a settled side, it was desperate luck for Long.
24 - Darron Gibson (Everton)
League appearances 9 (6)
The talented midfielder generally tends to appear in sentences where the word 'unfortunate' precedes his name and it must be soul-destroying that a range of fitness setbacks have again prevented him from making an impact for Everton. He turns 28 in October and it's a source of real concern.
25 - Kevin Doyle (Crystal Palace)
League appearances 3 (3)
There was great optimism on August deadline day last summer when Doyle secured a loan move to Neil Warnock's Crystal Palace but he has since admitted that it was a bad move and he ended up making no impact. After a strange period in his career, he's embarked on a new challenge with Colorado Rapids.