Ten of the Irish who need to shine
IN an ideal world, Giovanni Trapattoni wouldn't be too affected by the return of competitive football to the UK this weekend when mulling over the identity of his Ireland squad for the upcoming European qualifiers.
Alas, the reality is that while there's a healthier representation of Irishmen in the Premier League now than there was a couple of years ago, the Italian needs to look to the Championship and the Scottish Premier League to supplement his star names.
So he'll need to be tuned into events, although recent evidence would suggest that anyone aspiring to force his way into the international picture would be better off in England's second tier than plying their trade in Scotland.
Consider the cases of Liam Miller and Anthony Stokes. When they were reserve-team figures at Sunderland, throughout the ill-fated World Cup campaign, Trapattoni regularly afforded them a place in his plans, with Miller a squad regular and Stokes a frequent late call-up despite his troubled relationship with then-Ireland U-21 boss Don Givens.
Both moved to Hibernian, where they impressed throughout last term, with Stokes banging in the goals and Miller regaining some of the assurance that had deserted him in the north east of England.
Yet despite that, the Corkman has gradually slipped out of Trapattoni's plans. For the May internationals with Algeria and Paraguay, Trap called up Derby's Paul Green, who has spent his entire career in the lower echelons of the English game. Green did enough to retain his place for the upcoming friendly with Argentina and, by extension, effectively guarantee his berth in the squad for the beginning of the Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Meanwhile, Stokes, who was called up to the May exercise without ever getting the chance to shine, is down the pecking-order in the battle to provide back-up to the untouchable Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle. Reading's Shane Long and Hull's Caleb Folan are ahead of him, although there is a slight contradiction in the sense that Cillian Sheridan is also in there. Sheridan ended last term on loan at St Johnstone from Celtic, and has effectively failed to make the grade at Parkhead. You sense that his size appeals to Trapattoni, whereas Stokes' goalscoring exploits for Hibs, for whom he netted 21 times in 36 league games last term, carry little weight.
Here are some Irishmen, from both divisions, who face important seasons in the context of their careers.
There's no doubting that the Dubliner is good enough to thrive at this level, for he has proved it in the past, but he ended up in League One last term, where his playmaking inspired Norwich to promotion. With his top-flight ambitions still burning brightly, he needs to be as influential this time around.
A first full season in England for the ex-Bohs midfielder, who hit the ground running last winter and made a positive impact at the Ricoh Arena. However, there's been a change of manager over the summer, with Chris Coleman gone and Adrian Boothroyd appointed. With former Ireland international Lee Carsley an experienced addition to the midfield fold, Deegan faces competition if he is to push on.
Sean St Ledger
Surely it's time that the Ireland regular progressed from this level? Alongside Richard Dunne at the centre of defence, he has performed impressively against stars from France and Italy, yet an aborted move to Middlesbrough and erratic club displays back at Preston have damaged his standing in England.
Was installed as favourite to be top scorer at the Madejski Stadium last term and handed the No 9 shirt, with Kevin Doyle moving on. He struggled before belatedly hitting form under new gaffer Brian McDermott after Christmas. The Tipperary man has to prove he can deliver, from the front, for an entire campaign. No better time.
The midfielder was a part of the Irish squad for the 2008 European U-17 Championship, where he impressed. However, his progress stalled at Sunderland and Roy Keane swooped over the summer to bring him to Ipswich on a one-year deal. The length of the term is hardly a ringing endorsement, but he will be given a fair chance to fulfil his early potential.
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The former Stoke star was a goalscoring revelation at underage level for Ireland, shining in an U-19 team where his team-mates included Stokes, Long and Billy Clarke. He went off the radar before popping up in Scotland and hitting form midway through last season to fire Caley back into the top flight. Still has time to live up to early expectations.
It's been a difficult couple of years for Murphy, who fell out of favour at Sunderland and baulked at leaving his big contract there, instead ending last season on loan with Ipswich, where he performed competently. A move to Parkhead took his fancy, however, and he needs a strong campaign to force his way back into Trapattoni's thoughts.
The Dubliner has been dogged by knee trouble since his emergence at Colchester. While Anthony Stokes, rightly, has grabbed the headlines for his scoring exploits in his time in Scotland, this could be a significant year for Daly as Dundee United try to build on an impressive campaign.
realistically the Cork teenager isn't going to feature at first-team level this year but it'll be worth following his progress behind the scenes with the novelty of the goalkeeper going against convention by joining the Ibrox club. Walter Smith reckons he could be in the first team within a couple of seasons. What a wonderful story that would be, silencing the narrow-minded few who make Scottish football even less attractive.
Cheating a little bit considering he's a Northern Ireland international but there'll always be interest in McCourt given how he wowed during his stint in the League of Ireland. Neil Lennon's appointment was good news for McCourt and he has already awarded him a new contract.