Thursday 18 January 2018

Ranking Ireland's Premier League contingent - Consistent Ward top of the class

Small number of regular top-flight players a concern for O’Neill

Stephen Ward leads the way for Irish players in England, helping Burnley avoid the drop. Photo: GETTY
Stephen Ward leads the way for Irish players in England, helping Burnley avoid the drop. Photo: GETTY
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The curtain has come down on the Premier League season and it would be a stretch to say that the Irish contingent have really left a mark.

It hasn't been a great campaign for followers of the green scene and that is reflected by the small number of players that have figured for top-flight clubs on a regular basis.

At the end of each season, the Irish Independent ranks every player that has lined out at the highest level.

The field is dwindling. In 2013, 2014 and 2015 there were 25 contenders. Twelve months ago, it was 20.

This year, the total number of Irish options that have spent any time on the pitch during a Premier League match in 2016/17 stands at just 19 - and that includes West Ham youngster Declan Rice, who made a solitary appearance as an injury-time sub on Sunday. Two others, Kevin Long and Marc Wilson, did not feature until May 6.

It's not a great situation, although promotion for Newcastle and Brighton is helpful and Reading are the play-off final choice. Here's this season's chart,a pecking order that takes their previous standing into account:

James McClean in action for West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns. Photo: Getty Images
James McClean in action for West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns. Photo: Getty Images

1. Stephen Ward (37 Premier League appearances)

The ex-Bohemians player has been a revelation this season, and Sean Dyche has picked the Dubliner every time that he's been available. He was mentioned in local dispatches as an outside candidate for their player of the season award and his consistency at left-back helped the Clarets to steer clear of relegation trouble.

2. Harry Arter (35)

A major player for Bournemouth and, while he has thrown in some bad tackles, his workrate and determination are important to his manager. He scored just one goal; his brief effectively allows others to shine in that department as the Cherries are a potent attacking force.

3. Seamus Coleman (26)

Until Neil Taylor abruptly cut short his campaign, Coleman was the outstanding Irish performer, enjoying one of his best ever seasons at Everton.

4. Jeff Hendrick (32)

A year ago, he was blowing hot and cold at Derby County so he's made huge strides to become a Premier League regular. He's still not the finished product and can drift out of games but he can be content with his contribution.

5. Glenn Whelan (30)

It hasn't been a vintage season for Whelan; he's been in and out of the Stoke side but 26 starts is a decent return and he's just eight months away from a decade of service at Stoke.

6. James McClean (34)

Another man regarded highly by his manager because of his attitude, but an untimely suspension in the autumn cost McClean as Matt Phillips took his place and West Brom embarked on a winning run. He played his way back into the frame in the final stretch.

7. Damien Delaney (30)

The 35-year-old is already booked in for another year on this stage after penning a one-year contract at Crystal Palace. He was picked from the start for 21 games with Mamadou Sakho taking his place but he's done enough to earn a new deal.

8. Jonathan Walters (23)

Walters' season was interrupted by surgery on his knee at the turn of the year, but he scored in both of Stoke's meetings with Liverpool.

9. Darren Randolph (22)

It was all going so well for Randolph when he finally usurped Adrian in November and a prolonged run between the West Ham sticks followed. He impressed initially but didn't see the season out as the main man after a run of high-profile concessions.

Shane Long attempts to lob Petr Cech. Photo: Getty Images
Shane Long attempts to lob Petr Cech. Photo: Getty Images

10. Shane Long (32)

2015/16 was great; 2016/17 not so much. The exit of Ronald Koeman didn't help with Claude Puel tweaking the formation and then bringing in Manolo Gabbiadini. Only made 10 starts and he didn't score until New Year's Eve.

Read more: Shane Long features on list of worst Premier League players of the season after tough campaign

11. Robbie Brady (14)

Finding his feet at Burnley after they splashed the cash and the consensus is that he will benefit from a full pre-season. The versatile Dubliner has been tried in a few positions without nailing down a spot.

12. John O'Shea (28)

He says he wants to stay at Sunderland and that could mark the end of a distinguished Premier League career. The Black Cats were dreadful and deservedly go down. O'Shea had a couple of tough days at the office but the 36-year-old has performed better than some of his younger colleagues.

13. David Meyler (20)

A season-ending injury in April meant that Meyler was incapable of helping Hull steer clear of trouble. Marco Silva had sporadically used him. Meyler will play more in the Championship.

14. Darron Gibson (11)

A January switch to Sunderland brought the Derry man out of the wilderness. It's a blow for him that David Moyes has left. Amazingly, the 29-year-old has only started 74 league games in his senior career.

15. Kevin Long (3)

The season has ended on a high for the centre-back after a lengthy wait for inclusion in Burnley's plans. He was behind Michael Keane and Ben Mee until they suffered setbacks that gave him a chance. He impressed Roy Keane and got an Irish call.

West Ham United's Declan Rice. Photo: Getty Images
West Ham United's Declan Rice. Photo: Getty Images

16. Marc Wilson (4)

Similar to Gibson, a mid-season change of scenery and reunion with a former boss was badly needed, with Bournemouth simply not working out. Tony Pulis brought him to West Brom on loan but then couldn't find room for the recruit in his side until the dying stages of the campaign.

17 Declan Rice (1)

Slaven Bilic is a fan of the 18-year-old English-born Irish U-19 international who can operate in defence and midfield, and his cameo at Burnley was followed by an invitation to train with Martin O'Neill's squad in Cork.

Read more: West Ham teenager Declan Rice called into Ireland senior squad by Martin O'Neill along with Cork duo

18. Shay Given (5)

Jack Butland's injury woe meant that he started the season as No 1 for Stoke but it didn't go too well for the Donegal man, who shipped 14 goals in his five Premier League outings.

19. James McCarthy (12)

Maybe it's a bit harsh to stick McCarthy at the bottle of the pile considering he featured a dozen times in the Premier League, which is more than a number of those listed above. However, this has been a campaign to forget for the Glaswegian with injury problems and the club v country rows that ensued. His future is deeply uncertain when he should be in the prime of his career.

Irish Independent

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