Friday 30 September 2016

From McClean to Clark - Five Irish players with a point to prove this season

Now's the time to deliver for these players at a crucial stage of their careers

Published 07/08/2015 | 02:30

James McClean playing for West Bromwich Albion against Swindon Town
James McClean playing for West Bromwich Albion against Swindon Town
Harry Arter of AFC Bournemouth
Wes Hoolahan of Norwich City
Ciaran Clark of Aston Villa
Seamus Coleman of Everton

The sad reality is that, as it stands, no Irish player will begin this season with a club that has ambitions of lifting the Premier League trophy.

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Cup competitions offer the best chance of silverware for members of Martin O'Neill's squad right now with even the new Holy Grail - a top four finish and a Champions League spot - also out of reach on the basis of last term's performances.

Still, it's quite an achievement to make a living in the top flight these days. The effort that is required to make it there shouldn't be underestimated.

Each player in that sphere has to set their own individual goals to survive in that company. Here are five Irishmen with a particular point to prove in the 2015/16 campaign.

James McClean, West Brom

It's been another headline grabbing summer for the Derry man, and not always for the right reasons. Considering he was part of a Wigan team which dropped out of the Championship in miserable fashion, it was a major boost that he was offered a Premier League return with West Brom as a consequence.

This recognised the fact that his attitude was excellent even as Wigan toiled and he was recognised as comfortably their best player from a year to forget. Unfortunately, his refusal to turn and face the flag for a baffling airing of 'God Save the Queen' before a pre-season friendly in America brought a world of pain on the shoulders of the Derry lad.

Most of the criticism aimed in his direction has been over the top, displaying a complete lack of knowledge about the complexities of his background and the depth of his principles. Still, a public dressing down from Tony Pulis and criticism from a section of his support means the 26-year-old has to hit the ground running and let his football do the talking. He's no longer a young man; this is the crossroads of his career.

Harry Arter, Bournemouth

Arter is 25 and has come to the top table via a circuitous route, suffering the blow of a release from Charlton as a teenager and bouncing back from the non-league to move up the ranks with a progressive Bournemouth group. He's still had to convince a couple of people along the way; the popular blog written by an anonymous 'Secret Footballer' suggested that opponents believed that putting a few heavy tackles in on the silky midfielder could unsettle him. And, despite widespread acclaim for his performances last season, Arter was a surprise absentee from the Championship's PFA Team of the Season which was selected by his peers.

Therefore, he will be keen to show that he belongs at this level. His manager Eddie Howe appears to be a big fan, yet there's always a natural fear for players who are promoted into the Premier League for the first time with a club that has an immediate brief to avoid the drop. The danger is that a slow start leads their under pressure boss to conclude that performers with a bit of experience in this company are required. Arter, who will make a delayed start to his season due to injury, should have the technical quality to be suited by the rise in class.

Seamus Coleman, Everton

In truth, it's a reflection of the standards that Coleman reached in the 2013/14 campaign that last season was considered a slight disappointment. Everton lost their way a bit as teams got a better handle of how they operated under Roberto Martinez. Coleman and fellow full back Leighton Baines were quite subdued in comparison with previous years.

Like his pal McClean, the Donegal native is moving into another stage of his development; he is 26 too and has evolved beyond that wonderful period where he was the surprise package with a fairytale story.

Coleman has earned the right to be taken seriously, but he has been encouraged to adopt a selfish streak and move on from Everton if they find themselves lodged in mid-table again. Manchester United's recruitment of Matteo Darmian appears to have closed the door to Old Trafford for now.

Certainly, it would be tremendous if the Toffees could emerge as a genuine top six side again but, failing that, Coleman has to seize the moment and push on to ensure that he's top of the shopping list when the other powerhouses survey the right sided market.

Wes Hoolahan, Norwich

He wasn't able to properly contribute to Norwich's unsuccessful fight with the drop two seasons ago as he was frozen out by Chris Hughton and then Neil Adams due to a combination of tactical preferences and the tension surrounding a proposed move to Aston Villa which fell through. Through a glass half empty perspective, it was plausible that Hoolahan was waving goodbye to the Premier League for good.

But the climate at Norwich changed and he was brought in from the cold to star in a promotion charge that only took off when Adams was replaced by ambitious Scot Alex Neil. Hoolahan, who turned 33 in May, is back in the good books with the Norwich supporters and demonstrated his ability to add something different in their play-off final success.

Hughton never really seemed to fully believe that Hoolahan was a week in, week out option and the challenge for the diminutive playmaker is to show Neil that he is worth a place on the teamsheet throughout the season.

Ciaran Clark, Aston Villa

He flew under the radar slightly last term, possibly because any Irish eyes trained on Villa were largely obsessing over the dithering of Jack Grealish. Clark was a bit unlucky, silencing a few doubters among his own support by stringing together a consistent run of displays until an ill-timed injury ruled him out of the FA Cup final.

Tim Sherwood was full of praise for Clark, implying that he would have a significant role to play going forward - and that was backed up by the announcement earlier this week that the player has signed a new five-year contract which ties him down until 2020.

Definitive verdicts on Clark have been offered because he's around for a quite a while, but he's only 25 which is young for a centre half.

Clark, whose comfort on his left side is a serious string to his bow, could really grow in stature if he builds on the promising signs from this calendar year.

Irish Independent

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