Tuesday 21 January 2020

Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'The challenge now for Troy Parrott is to sustain rise beyond teenage dreams'

Jose Mourinho hands the ball to Troy Parrott after Tottenham’s victory. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Jose Mourinho hands the ball to Troy Parrott after Tottenham’s victory. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Troy Parrott had some excess baggage when he headed home after his day's work in London on Saturday, the teenager taking away the match ball as a souvenir from his Premier League debut.

He also had a large pat on the back from his manager, with a hint of more opportunities to come from Jose Mourinho who was eager to make a point about his apparent lack of belief in young players by giving Parrott a run out in Tottenham's 5-0 win over Burnley.

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"It was his debut and I think it had a much bigger meaning to a kid who last week was playing against others his age in the UEFA Youth League," Mourinho said, hinting at some action for Parrott in Wednesday's Champions League game away to Bayern Munich.

Parrott's arrival on the Premier League stage means that the Republic of Ireland now have three teenagers playing first-team football at that level - a burst of youth not seen in a long time - as Michael Obafemi and Aaron Connolly, both 19, have also appeared in the English top flight this season with Southampton and Brighton respectively.

For a long time there was a worrying trend in the Premier League as Irish players were becoming rarer - and older - at that level.

It's not so long ago that the fountain of youth had dried up so much that Cyrus Christie was named as Ireland's Young Player of the Year - when he was 25.

Parrott's debut is a good news story in a time of crisis for the Irish game, and in another era a certain FAI CEO would probably have even issued a press release packed with his own quotes to trumpet the fact.

But we need to be careful with Parrott, as the track record of Irish teenagers at this level is not so encouraging. Many have recently found that early promise hard to back up.

Outside of the current trio (Parrott, Obafemi and Connolly), in the last decade eight Irish players appeared in the Premier League while in their teens.

Only one would become a Premier League regular (Ciaran Clark, who made his Aston Villa debut at 18).

Just one played Premier League football again after his debut season (Greg Cunningham, a 19-year-old debutant with Manchester City in 2010 who reappeared in the Premier with Cardiff City).

From the rest of those Irish Premier League teens, just one (Derrick Williams) has gone on to win senior caps as the others earn their crust in the UK's lower leagues (Reece Grego-Cox, Anthony Forde, Michael Harriman, Aaron Doran).

Another one-time teen star, Kevin Toner (four Premier League games for Aston Villa in 2016 when he was 18) has just dropped out of senior football to play at junior level in Meath.

In a previous generation, exiles like Damien Duff and Richard Dunne sustained things beyond teenage dreams. That's the challenge now facing Parrott.

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