Thursday 23 November 2017

Comment: Long and Wilson calls highlight shortage of Premier options for Ireland


Burnley’s Kevin Long challenges Bournemouth’s Lys Mousset last Saturday. Photo: PA
Burnley’s Kevin Long challenges Bournemouth’s Lys Mousset last Saturday. Photo: PA
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The number of Irishmen to have lined out at Premier League action this season stands at 18.

Two of those, Damien Delaney and Shay Given, are no longer available to Martin O'Neill.

So the maths are simple enough when the Irish boss has a penchant for naming squads that run close to 40 names.

Any player capable of a spin at top-flight level automatically comes into the equation.

The meeting of Burnley and West Brom last Saturday week was significant because six Irish options figured in proceedings.

By making their first league appearances of the season, Kevin Long and Marc Wilson put themselves on O'Neill's radar.

In Wilson's case, it's more a case of restoring his status. He was a first-choice pick in defence in the early phase of the Euro 2016 journey and would have made the finals were it not for injury problems.

Tony Pulis offered a loan move as a break from a grim stint at Bournemouth, and the Irish call is a confidence boost, with his career in limbo.

Centre-back Long is well named because it describes the time-scale of his wait for a Premier League chance at Burnley. A cruciate injury sustained on his debut at the highest level prevented him from contributing to the Clarets' attempts to stay up in 2015.

They are safe from the drop this time around and Sean Dyche has kept the Corkman at the club, so he must rate him. Injuries to Ben Mee and Michael Keane have given him the chance to end the season in their side and the latter's imminent departure should offer the 26-year-old a summer focus.

O'Neill says he doesn't want to throw caps around like confetti, so it's striking when players are included on a long list off the strength of a handful of outings. That's the value of the Premier League stamp.

Further down the ladder, different rules apply. Ireland's attacking department is packed with 30-somethings, but Cork City's Sean Maguire still has work to do to get into the picture. He is likely to join Preston in the summer, and that will doubtless give him a much better chance, with the Championship the main battleground for Irish hopefuls.

After all, 29-year-old Scottish based striker Adam Rooney - who is in this provisional panel - has yet to win a cap after several false dawns.

Club commitments rule Cillian Sheridan out of the friendlies with Mexico and Uruguay, yet O'Neill obviously has reservations about the Polish league's new star too.

The dearth of options in elite company presents a challenge and, while it might go against the manager's instincts, there is an argument for getting the likes of Maguire around the camp before they hit the bigger time, especially with Scott Hogan cold on Irish advances.

A shortage of top-tier players, and the age profile of the lucky few, would suggest the promising Cork star is going to be needed in the long run.

Irish Independent

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