Daniel McDonnell: Why English second tier will provide array of storylines for Ireland as qualifying for Euro 2020 hots up
English second tier will provide array of storylines as qualifying for Euro 2020 hots up
The Championship is the hub for Irish activity in English football.
In an ideal world that wouldn't be the case, but with Premier League players at a premium, Mick McCarthy will spend a lot of time at grounds he knows well in the coming months.
Of course, the English second tier is a massive league in its own right, scoring high in all of the metrics.
Any manager or player consistently earning a living at this level can safely say they've made it in the professional game.
The Sheffield United story and the rise of Conor Hourihane delivered some good-news stories last term.
Here's the Irish storylines that should shape the new campaign, which kicks off this weekend.
Double Jobbing Robbie
Robbie Keane's move to join Middlesbrough as number two will certainly keep him busy. International breaks are the only respite for Championship coaches in the course of a hectic 46-game campaign.
But Keane will be needed by Mick McCarthy then, and the experience should certainly further his education.
He's untested in this sphere, and his combination with former team-mate Jonathan Woodgate at a club with lofty expectations should teach us a lot.
Instagram has shone a light on their pre-season, with Keane even getting involved in the odd session, but that won't endear him to anybody if Boro aren't doing the business. Darren Randolph is now a very important person in his work life.
Keane will meet familiar faces on the circuit, with John O'Shea taking a prominent role on the Reading staff, while Shay Given is sticking around at Derby too.
The Preston Equation
Preston North End's status as the Irish club in the Championship has been diminished by a series of departures. Alan Browne and Sean Maguire are the two senior Irish players of interest and they are both nearing a crossroads.
Maguire's progress has been checked by injuries and he needs a trouble-free season to point his career in the right direction again.
The case of Browne is interesting. He has established himself as one of the Championship's leading lights and Preston are basically a selling club.
If the Corkman builds on last year's double-figure goalscoring return, then this could be his final campaign at Deepdale unless they build a promotion charge.
Hull City manager Grant McCann has trailed Sean McLoughlin for some time, with his interest dating back to his time at Doncaster, so one would expect that the 22-year-old will come into the first-team squad with his new club.
McLoughlin is a late-developing left-sided centre-half who completed his education while staying at home and is now placed to further his career in England. One to follow.
The New Generation
There is a buzz around a new generation of Irish players coming through the ranks between the ages of 17 and 21, and this should be the season where a number of them take a major step forward in their career.
Three names to note are Nathan Collins (Stoke), Jason Knight (Derby) and Dara O'Shea (West Brom).
Dublin defender Collins is already the subject of interest from Manchester United after breaking into the Stoke team towards the end of the season.
Knight is a talented midfielder who was on the bench for Derby's playoff final loss to Aston Villa and the hope is that Frank Lampard's exit doesn't hold him back.
O'Shea was on loan at Exeter last year and the centre-half has featured in West Brom's pre-season fixtures. Stephen Kenny rates him highly.
Conor Masterson's move to QPR after his release from Liverpool is another point of interest. After being tipped for big things at Anfield, he will have to adjust to a fresh start and properly begin his senior journey.
Mick McCarthy doesn't have fond memories of his scouting trip to watch Danny Crowley in Holland last year.
The playmaker's performances with Willem II justified a trip to watch Crowley play in the Dutch Cup final against Ajax. But he was surprisingly dropped, and McCarthy also managed to break an expensive watch on a journey which was only relevant for 15 minutes.
Crowley had flirted with both England and Ireland in his youth, but now asserts that he's committed to green and a transfer to Birmingham should make it easier for McCarthy to track his progress.
Callum O'Dowda was one of the top Irish performers at this level last term, and his exploits with Bristol City turned heads.
His progress was halted by an injury in March and then speculation that chatter about his next move had proved to be a distraction. O'Dowda is entering the final year of his deal, but did not appear keen on attempts by his manager Lee Johnson to tie him down for the long term.
Leeds were on his trail in January, and Martin O'Neill was eyeing up a swoop before his sacking from Nottingham Forest. Fulham were the latest club to be linked with the 24-year-old.
He needs clarity on his future before deadline day on August 8. A year in the bad books at a club he is set to leave could represent a wasted exercise.
James Collins was prolific for Luton last term, and the 28-year-old earned a call into Mick McCarthy's plans for the March double-header without actually getting on the pitch.
He's never actually played at this level, so this will be a test of his improvement, which might give McCarthy a better indication of whether he's ready for a senior bow. His club colleague Glen Rea is another Irish option, with injury hampering his progress.
Hughton's Waiting Game
It would be nice to think that Chris Hughton would be in line for vacant Premier League jobs off the back of his body of work with Brighton.
However, it would seem more likely that Hughton will be the name on the lips of any Championship chairman or backroom figure thinking about a change in the dugout.
He's already been linked with the Sheffield Wednesday job, although there are mixed messages about his level of interest.
Either way, it would be a surprise if he isn't back in work by Christmas. This demanding league is brutal when it comes to the hiring and firing of managers.