Daniel McDonnell ranks Ireland's 25 Premier League performers
The curtain came down on the Premier League season on Sunday, with 25 Irish players seeing action in the English top flight across the course of the campaign.
Here, Daniel McDonnell casts an eye over the green contingent and ranks them according to the quality of their performances and the progression they have made over the term
1. SEAMUS COLEMAN
The well of superlatives is running dry at this point. There's no argument to make here; Coleman was the outstanding Irish player of this season, and the exciting part is that the League of Ireland's finest recent export can still get better. Voted into the PFA Team of Year by his peers, and his Everton pals reckoned the Donegal native was their best performer. Bigger operations would love his services.
2. JAMES MCCARTHY
There's no hype around McCarthy in England; he probably needs to start scoring goals to attract that attention, and Sunday's strike at Hull is a good start. Nevertheless, he is already an established part of the furniture at Goodison Park and has seamlessly adapted to the step-up from an annual relegation fight. Everton did great business buying him at half the price of Marouane Fellaini's sale His level head will ensure the growth goes on.
3. DAMIEN DELANEY
He completes the podium and is reaching new heights in the home stretch of his topsy turvy career. The 32-year-old looks like he has operated at Premier League level all his life, when in reality he has spent the last decade scrapping to get there. The Tony Pulis effect rubbed off on the Corkonian, who fully deserves to add to his eight caps.
4. DAVID MEYLER
Another vastly improved player who looked to be in a spot of bother at Hull when they recruited Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore. To his credit, he rose to the challenge and made it very hard for Steve Bruce to drop him. The Alan Pardew controversy was an unwelcome distraction and he rode his luck when clashing with Adnan Januzaj, but Saturday's FA Cup could turn a good season into a great one.
5. SHANE LONG
On paper, his January switch from West Brom to Hull was at best a move sideways. Encouragingly, he seized the responsibility and helped the Humbersiders comfortably avoid the drop. They would have a much better chance of cup joy this weekend if Long wasn't cup tied and are a club with potential, even if owner Assem Allam's tantrums around the naming issue are a bit worrying.
6. GLENN WHELAN
Stoke fans are an angry lot and Whelan was a prime target for criticism in the final days of the Pulis era. The Dubliner has always argued that he would be comfortable in a better footballing side – a comment that extends to the international scene – and he has walked the walk for his club this term, winning over some sceptics.
7. MARC WILSON
An injury to Robert Huth gave versatile Wilson a prolonged run in the Stoke side at centre-half and he has demonstrated an aptitude for the role. Like Whelan, he has also silenced a few critics. Martin O'Neill is a fan and thinks it may be his best position. An interesting phase of the Aghagallon lad's football life is starting.
8. STEPHEN IRELAND
His international intentions remain a source of confusion and he will need to give O'Neill some straight answers when they meet up. The Derry man feels the player has no reason not to come back now that he has earned a longer-term deal with Stoke on the back of a campaign where he improved after Christmas.
9. JOHN O'SHEA
When O'Shea was dropped for Sunderland's meeting with Spurs last month, some of his club's supporters agreed with the call as he was going through a rocky patch. But he was quickly restored to Gus Poyet's defence for the run-in and his experience was apparent in key successes at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.
10. JON WALTERS
Managers trust Walters and Mark Hughes respects what he offers, but he didn't quite finish the season as an automatic selection on the teamsheet at the Britannia. A contentious sending off at Norwich proved costly as he found it hard to get back in the side and was used off the bench in the last month.
11. ROBBIE BRADY
Burst from the blocks like a man possessed, ready to seize his first taste of the big time. Four goals later, the attacking midfielder was gradually worn down by hernia and groin ailments that left him desperately frustrated. The good news is that we know he's up to the task. But he'll reflect on this season with mixed feelings.
12. STEVEN REID
The veteran faces a decision on his future in the summer but can be reasonably happy with how the second half of the season panned out as he became a regular in the Baggies side and helped them avoid the trapdoor.
13. AIDEN MCGEADY
In a way, every McGeady appearance this term was a bonus considering that he was originally tipped to sign from Spartak Moscow in the summer until Everton signed him early. Took a while to get up to pace and largely used as impact sub. Too early to reach a verdict, but hasn't set world alight yet. Still, he has taken a step forward by jumping into a top-six club.
14. JOEY O'BRIEN
Until January, O'Brien's season was ticking along nicely. Given his chequered injury past, it is a triumph that the Dubliner has become a regular Premier League performer. Alas, bad luck struck when he dislocated his shoulder, consigning him to a watching brief for the concluding months. Made comeback at Eastlands on Sunday.
15. CIARAN CLARK
The jury is still deliberating on a player who turns 25 later this year. Has drifted in and out of Paul Lambert's plans and hasn't yet grown into the commanding centre-half that Ireland wanted. Certainly, he has fallen behind Delaney and Wilson on current form.
16. STEPHEN QUINN
Picked up an unfortunate setback at the start of the season and has never really been able to string together a consistent run of games. Nevertheless, he came off the bench to score in the FA Cup semi-final and this technically astute Dubliner can aspire for more outings next term.
17. PAUL MCSHANE
The Wicklow native saved the best for last in terms of his Hull City contract by contributing significantly to their promotion but, while he secured a new deal for the top flight, he has ended up spending more time with the physio. Like Brady, he'll be a bit enervated by how it has all panned out.
18. JACK GREALISH
The highly regarded teenager was loaned to Notts County for almost the entire season and wowed their fans with his tricks and ability. Lambert brought him in last week to gain first-team experience and that must be considered a big step forward for the Irish U-21 international. For that alone, he ranks higher than those below who've gone down a snake – not up a ladder.
19. WES HOOLAHAN
Norwich are getting the relegation they deserve with the odd treatment of Hoolahan extending from Chris Hughton to Neil Adams. Both favoured a direct route to goal that didn't involve the playmaker. Perhaps he didn't help himself by trying to engineer a January switch to Aston Villa, but after a season of woe he'll be praying Lambert comes calling again.
20. DAMIEN DUFF
The great man leaves Craven Cottage this summer and has an open mind on what comes next. It may well be that the Premier League has seen the last of him and it's unlikely that anything from this season will make the highlights showreel. Powerless to prevent Fulham's demise as he was absent from the beginning of February with a knee complaint.
21. ANTHONY PILKINGTON
His commitment to the Irish cause was once questioned because he pulled out of so many games, but it's clear that persistent niggles are an affliction that will always curtail his availability. Pilkington was also out of favour at times when he was fit. At 25, a player expects to be naturally progressing. He has gone backwards this term.
22. ROBERT ELLIOT
Firmly cast as the stand-in 'keeper at St James' Park, and a brief absence for Tim Krul gave Elliot a taste of the limelight. Both of his league outings culminated in 4-0 defeats as he came into a team in freefall. Best to draw a line under it.
23. PADDY MCCARTHY
The long-serving captain of Crystal Palace missed the excitement of their promotion charge due to a lay-off that kept him out for 18 months and he rejoined the first-team picture before Christmas. Made two appearances in January, including a Premier League outing against Hull City, and then went back to the sidelines with others preferred. Uncertain times for the player.
24. DARRON GIBSON
Considering he was harshly derided at Manchester United, one of the positive stories of last term was Gibson's continuing development at Everton. What a shame that it has been followed up by a write-off, with the Derry man only just off the treatment table when a cruciate put him back there. We still don't fully know where he fits into Roberto Martinez's vision at the club.
25. KEIREN WESTWOOD
No Irish player's stock has fallen as much over the past nine months. Last August, Westwood was finally presented with the opportunity to become Sunderland's No 1 following the sale of Simon Mignolet to Liverpool and was vying with David Forde for the Irish shirt. A bad run of form, the emergence of Vito Mannone, and then an injury nightmare made it a season to forget. From here, the only way is up.
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