Enda Stevens has dismissed the notion that Ireland do not have the players to be a force on the international stage, as he suggested the second-tier Championship division in England could provide the key for Mick McCarthy to revive the fortunes of the national team.
Stevens has emerged as a star performer for promotion chasing Sheffield United this season and after struggling to make a breakthrough into Martin O’Neill’s Ireland set-up, he is hopeful of getting more chances to shine under new boss McCarthy.
O’Neill was among those who suggested a lack of talent was the primary reason why he struggled to find a winning formula with Ireland in recent months, but Stevens paints a more upbeat view of that story.
“You don’t necessarily have to have loads of great players to be a successful team and we have to remember that,” began the full-back, in an exclusive interview.
“Look at a nation like Iceland. They have some good players, but not too much better than what we have and yet they have done well in the last few years.
“I believe we have enough talent available in Ireland to get a successful team together and the players we have in the Championship in England can be vital for us moving forward now.
“There are a lot of Irish-qualified players in this league and good quality to pick from as well, so I’d be optimism the new manager and his staff will have the players there to get us moving forward again.
“It’s a bit of a crazy division in a lot of ways. You see some of the shorelines each week and there are a lot of goals going in at both ends. It’s a very hard league to predict and at this point, I’d say anyone in the top half of the table could take one of the promotion places.
“Leeds are a decent team, West Bromwich Albion are strong, Sheffield Wednesday might improve now that Steve Bruce has been appointed and Aston Villa have started doing well since they changed manager.
“All of us at Sheffield United feel we can get promotion this season and that we are ready to go into the Premier League. There are so many examples of clubs of our size that have gone ups and done well well in the Premier League and we want to join that list in 2019.”
Stevens has backed his Sheffield United team-mate David McGoldrick to make a big impact in McCarthy’s Ireland set-up, with the striker who has been in fine form for the Blades in recent weeks a potent attacking option for the new Ireland management team.
“Dizzy never lacks anything in terms of confidence and I’m sure he can do a great job for Ireland,” says McGoldrick of a striker who scored Sheffield United's winning goal against QPR on Saturday.
“Clearly we have had a few concerns scoring goals of late, but Dizzy adds so much to every team he plays for. It’s not just about goals for him, as he can gel a team together and brings other players into the game.
“Mick McCarthy knows him inside out from their day together at Ipswich and having players like him available means we should have the attacking players who can score goals for Ireland.
“I was also impressed by young Michael Obafemi when he came into the Ireland squad for the last match. For a kid of 18, he is strong, quick and seemed to have plenty of confidence, so it is great to have a player with his potential available to Ireland.”
Former Shamrock Rovers full-back Stevens believes the negativity surrounding the Ireland team in the final months of the O’Neill era was dragging the team down, as he is looking forward to a bright new era under McCarthy.
“I just feel everything was negative by the end of it with the last manager,” said Stevens. “Every time you spoke to the media or saw reports in the papers or on TV, it was all negative and that rubbed off on the team in the end.
“That’s all in the past now and I’m hopeful of getting picked for the first Ireland squad under Mick McCarthy and trying to get into his team.
“The new manager rang me to introduce himself and that was encouraging. Hopefully he gives me a chance to show what I can do at international level, but I am probably in one of the toughest positions to try and get into our team.
“We have a lot of good defenders to pick from and a lot of top quality full-backs as well, so I know I need to try and impress the new manager both in my games for Sheffield United and if I get called up to the Ireland squad in a few weeks time.”
A fresh chapter is opening for Ireland’s new manager and the players will be welcomed by fans and the media after a tortuous finale to the O’Neill story.