Friday 20 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell on a rough season for Ireland's 18 Premier League stars


Shane Long takes part in Southampton’s lap of honour with his son Jax after yesterday’s game against Manchester City. Photo: Getty Images
Shane Long takes part in Southampton’s lap of honour with his son Jax after yesterday’s game against Manchester City. Photo: Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The method for ranking Ireland's Premier League performers is increasingly becoming a process of elimination. Instead of working from the top down, you must make your way up from the bottom and strike off players who will struggle to remember the 2017/18 campaign for any good reason.

In total, just 18 Irish players figured. That's one fewer than last season, and a reduction from 20 in 2015/16 and 25 in the three years before that.

Brighton's Shane Duffy. Photo: Reuters
Brighton's Shane Duffy. Photo: Reuters

From Martin O'Neill's perspective there is little encouragement to take from the bottom line figure - it includes Stephen Ireland and Damien Delaney, who aren't available to him, although the curtain is coming down on their respective careers at this level.

The list is peppered with players who either suffered long-term injuries or fell out of favour with their employers and spent long periods on the sidelines. There's also a couple of youngsters who didn't even play a half of football between them.

On the goals front, Jeff Hendrick, Shane Long and Ciaran Clark shared top spot with a grand total of two efforts. Just four players crossed the 30 appearance mark and one of those, James McClean, did so with a team that has been relegated. Half of Long's appearances came off the bench.

A vintage year? Most certainly not. And the concern is that the days of two dozen Ireland players regularly engaging in this sphere might be old news.

Still, there were a couple of encouraging tales, with the front runners set to provide a presence in the years to come.

1. Shane Duffy (Brighton)

Premier League appearances: 36 (0 as sub)

Chris Hughton is the Irish manager of the year and it's fitting that one of Ireland's leading lights should be shining under his tutelage. Duffy had a reputation for being slightly error-prone when he joined Brighton and his first full Premier League campaign did have a couple of low moments - it certainly didn't finish well at Anfield.

However, his overall contribution was excellent and Ireland's player of the year for 2017 topped the Premier League charts for blocks, clearances and headed clearances, with his physical presence making him invaluable.. The 26-year-old can be excited about the road ahead.

2. Declan Rice (West Ham)

Premier League appearances: 25 (11 as sub)

The story of the season, even if Duffy's performances across the entire campaign were superior.

Rice's emergence is a major boost given he only made his debut on the final weekend of last term and appearances thrown out at the end of the campaign can be meaningless. In his case it meant a lot and this classy and versatile teenager is here to stay.

3. Stephen Ward (Burnley)

Premier League appearances: 28 (0 as sub)

It was only injury that prevented Ward from being an ever-present and Burnley's points average dropped when he was absent. That's a compliment to his influence, with Ward's resurgence an ongoing good news story

4. Jeff Hendrick (Burnley)

Premier League appearances: 34 (5 as sub)

There's still a niggling feeling he can do better and O'Neill has articulated that point. On the international stage he has performed below par, yet the simple fact is that Hendrick is pretty much first choice for a team that has qualified for Europe and that is a positive year.

5. Kevin Long (Burnley)

Premier League apps : 16 (0 as sub)

He has relied on the unavailability of first-choice options to get chances, but there has been enough upheaval to allow the Corkman make 13 more Premier League outings than he did in the 2016/17 season.

That's progress and Europa League fixture congestion will help his case next term.

6. Seamus Coleman (Everton)

Premier League appearances: 12 (0 as sub)

It's a personal victory for Coleman that he managed to get back on the pitch in January when others would have been on the sidelines for longer.

He was brilliant in his comeback match, yet he will certainly benefit from a full pre-season.

7. Shane Long (Southampton)

Premier League appearances: 30 (15 as sub)

When a striker who has scored two league goals is in this position, the grim nature of the Irish Premier League campaign is drilled home.

That said, there were promising signs from the Tipp man under Mark Hughes. The relationship with the manager does seem to impact on his displays.

8. James McClean (West Brom)

Premier League appearances: 30 (16 as sub)

It's an unfortunate state of affairs when a player from a relegated club is this high up the list.

However, McClean knuckled down to appear in most of West Brom's games and they finished the season well under a manager that would be a better fit for him than Alan Pardew.

9. Ciaran Clark (Newcastle)

Premier League apps: 20 (1 as sub)

Clark seems to be quite well regarded by Newcastle followers after impressing in their promotion charge, yet he fell out of favour with Rafa Benitez as Florian Lejeune and Jamaal Lascelles became the preferred centre-half partnership.

10. Robbie Brady (Burnley)

Premier League appearances: 15 (0 as sub)

He was on course for an excellent campaign until he sustained patellar tendon damage in December that put a premature end to his season.

It was a real shame for the Dubliner with his profile growing.

11. Rob Elliot (Newcastle)

Premier League appearances: 16 (0 as sub)

Had a spell as a first-choice player at Newcastle, but indifferent performances cost him his spot to Karl Darlow and then Martin Dubravka took the berth when he arrived in the transfer window.

Question marks hang over his career path from here.

12. James McCarthy (Everton)

Premier League appearances: 4 (1 as sub)

A disastrous campaign for the 27-year-old, with the sickening aspect of his broken leg in January being the fact that Sam Allardyce had put his faith in him and McCarthy was looking like his old self after a stop-start couple of seasons. He's on the comeback road again.

13. Josh Cullen (West Ham)

Premier League appearances: 2 (2 as sub)

His two brief league cameos added to FA Cup appearances, although the purpose of his campaign was meant to be a loan year at Bolton which didn't really go to plan.

The Ireland U-21 midfielder should still have a bright future, but he will reach a crossroads soon.

14. Michael Obafemi (Southampton)

Premier League appearances: 1 (1 as sub)

In theory, he should be at the bottom of the list, but the teenager's sub cameo at the highest level probably exceeded his expectations for the year. That marks him ahead of others.

He might have to be patient now. The 17-year-old also has interest from Nigeria.

15. Jonathan Walters (Burnley)

Premier League appearances: 3 (3 as sub)

The summer move to Burnley turned into a nightmare for the Ireland striker, with a pair of serious injuries at bad times making his campaign a write-off.

He was reportedly on his way to Sunderland in January when he picked up his second one, so maybe he dodged a bullet. Stoke missed him, though.

16. Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace)

Premier League appearances: 2 (1 as sub)

Delaney's Indian summer was extremely impressive, but it's run out of steam this year, with the Corkman firmly on the periphery at Crystal Palace. His career will have to continue elsewhere.

17. Stephen Ireland (Stoke)

Premier League appearances: 4 (3 as sub)

Yes, he's still alive. Ireland made a brief comeback, but his future at relegated Stoke is deeply uncertain with Mark Hughes moved on. He has got the look of a man who is now made for a stint in Australia or the MLS.

18. Harry Arter (Bournemouth)

Premier League appearances: 13 (2 as sub)

He's played more games than a good number of the players listed above him, but Arter's season has turned out to be particularly grim because he hasn't been struck down by a long-term injury.

The player has just fallen out of favour with Eddie Howe, with his apparent desire for a January move a factor. The only way can be up from here.

Irish Independent

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