Wednesday 21 August 2019

Fresh faces needed to strengthen Ireland's dwindling list of Premier League regulars

 

Adam Idah has signed a four-year deal with Norwich. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Adam Idah has signed a four-year deal with Norwich. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Let's cut to the chase. There are just four Irish players who were involved in last season's Premier League campaign who will kick off the new term expecting to start more games than they sit out.

Matt Doherty (Wolves), Shane Duffy (Brighton) and Seamus Coleman (Everton) should know where they stand, while Jeff Hendrick (Burnley) can rack up a substantial appearance count.

Beyond that, the 2018/19 campaign was a tale of woe. Hendrick's clubmate Robbie Brady missed a couple of months through injury and was restricted to a bench role when he returned, while Kevin Long remains in reserve.

His namesake Shane finished the season very strongly at Southampton and the last year of his contract might prompt a more sustained revival, but it's hard to be too bullish about that.

Beyond that, it was a grim enough year for Irish internationals at the highest level.

Stephen Ward, Cyrus Christie and Greg Cunningham won't be around this term.

Ciaran Clark and Harry Arter could end up in the Championship now that they appear to be surplus to requirements at Newcastle and Bournemouth respectively.

It's likely that Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor will spend the bulk of their weekends attending matches in the second tier as a season which will hopefully round off with Euro 2020 gathers pace.

However, there are a few developments which could occur in the Premier League that might just lift the spirits of the Irish boss.

JAMES McCARTHY MOVE

Lest we forget, this time last year it was Declan Rice's selection on the opening day of the Premier League campaign that was enthusing Irish supporters.

He's past tense now, and the challenge for McCarthy is to secure the move that shows his best days are ahead of him.

The 28-year-old has not figured for Ireland under McCarthy as last season was a complete write-off due to injuries and then Everton chief Marco Silva preferring other options.

Glenn Whelan has performed well, but McCarthy is a younger option and proved that he is suited to a sitting midfield brief at Euro 2016.

That's a long time ago now. Crystal Palace are favourites to secure his signature ahead of Newcastle.

Either scenario is better than his current position

DUFFY'S PROGRESSION

Shane Duffy should be monitoring the central defensive merry-go-round and wondering what it might mean for his status.

Harry Maguire's record-breaking move to Manchester United has set off a domino effect and it's going to deprive Duffy of the company of his Brighton ally Lewis Dunk.

Dunk is 10 months younger than Duffy, and there tends to be a tax on English internationals that inflates their prices, but if he's worth somewhere in the region of £40m then Duffy must consider what his value is.

He tops the charts for headers and clearances and while playing for a top team would test his ability to play it out from the back, he's a reliable Premier League player that should be targeting a climb up the ladder if this year goes to plan.

That focus should benefit him with Ireland. He's a solid contender to be our top scorer.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

It feels as though Troy Parrott is already due an apology.

He's 17 and on the verge of a first-team breakthrough with Tottenham; an incredible achievement given how hard it is to break through at a top-six club these days.

There should be no pressure attached as a call for involvement from Mauricio Pochettino would be way ahead of schedule.

However, the Ireland set-up is now following Parrott's move because of the desperation for a new star, especially one that can put it in the net.

His role in pre-season marquee fixtures breeds hope, yet a degree of patience is required.

It would help Parrott if the Irish spotlight was shared.

Michael Obafemi and Mark Travers did get on the pitch for Southampton and Bournemouth last term and that was bonus territory.

Injury is Obafemi's problem, while Travers will have to serve time as an understudy and wait for others to suffer misfortune - similar to Liverpool keeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

There are other candidates to come on the scene.

Parrott's Irish underage striking colleague Adam Idah (right) has signed a four-year deal with Norwich and is neartheir first-team squad.

Conor Coventry is around West Ham's group and, while Josh Cullen is now 23, loan moves have been rebuffed so maybe he will see more action this term.

Southampton's Will Smallbone and Brighton's Aaron Connolly have thrived at Premier League 2 level and have a squeak of involvement.

There's more budding contenders for Ireland than in previous campaigns. Parrott is definitely the one to watch, though.

PROMOTION PROGRESS

On the face of it, Sheffield United's promotion was good news for Irish football, although McCarthy has warned it is dependent on their players getting enough minutes.

For Enda Stevens, it's a second crack at this level and he's matured since his 2011 move to Aston Villa. John Egan and David McGoldrick get a first chance in this company, and Chris Wilder's move for Preston's Callum Robinson will allow another Irish option to prove if they can handle the step up.

Robinson and McGoldrick may end up in competition, but they should benefit from the challenge.

Conor Hourihane will also achieve a career ambition by graduating to the top table with Aston Villa, a club that has done a serious amount of shopping this summer.

He is technically good enough to survive the makeover.

CAPTAIN COLEMAN

New Year's Day 2019 was a miserable affair for Seamus Coleman.

He was dropped by Everton, and faced an unfamiliar type of adversity at club level. For so long, the feeling was that Everton were lucky to have the Donegal man. At that juncture, critical supporters were saying he would be lucky to get back in.

But Coleman regrouped to finish the season strongly as the established first choice.

McCarthy was always going to pick him ahead of Matt Doherty. The Wolves player was Ireland's Premier pick of 2018/19, but that came at wing-back rather than full-back.

Coleman also has leadership qualities that will be needed for the crunch phase of the qualifiers, so a trouble-free beginning to the 30-year-old's working term might just be one of McCarthy's main priorities.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: The 'hell' of World Cup training camp, Ireland's half-back dilemma and All Blacks uncertainty

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport