Saturday 16 December 2017

Unsung Irish heroes shone brightly across the water

Daniel McDonnell looks at some of the lesser Irish lights who shined brightly across the water in the season just ending

Brentford's Alan McCormack
Brentford's Alan McCormack
Stephen Gleeson in action for MK Dons
Crystal Palace defender Damien Delaney
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE discussion about the Irish star of the season across the water was a short one.

Seamus Coleman, described as a world-class full-back by Everton manager Roberto Martinez, was the outstanding performer from these shores.

His Everton team-mate James McCarthy also made a big impression, while Shane Long's stock rose following his big-money move to Hull, where David Meyler also made his fair share of positive headlines.

At Championship level, Andy Reid stole the show with some of the best football of his career before his unfortunate injury.

Beyond the higher-profile candidates, there were other Irish players who enjoyed good campaigns without making too many headlines. They are the unsung heroes of the season.

Here are 10 who deserve recognition for their efforts:

Damien Delaney, Crystal Palace

It's rare that a player gets his first proper crack at the Premier League at the age of 32. It's even less common that he adapts like he has operated in that company for the entirety of his career.

Delaney was given a taster of the top flight when he arrived at Leicester from Cork City at the turn of the century. From there, he ploughed a relatively unglamorous path before landing a free-transfer switch to Palace that has propelled him to the best spell of his footballing life.

He warmed to the responsibility of playing at centre-half as Tony Pulis' arrival steadied the ship and moved Palace well clear of relegation trouble.

Delaney was an emergency left-back or a reserve centre-half during Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland tenure; he has made a strong play for greater involvement under Martin O'Neill.

Harry Arter, Bournemouth

The 24-year-old was on the books of Charlton as a teenager but had to take a step back to take a couple forward by dropping to Woking before joining an improving Bournemouth.

Eddie Howe's side almost forced themselves into the play-offs and Arter, a playmaker, made a big impact until a costly red card against QPR sidelined him at a bad time.

Derry man Eunan O'Kane has featured in these pages before and starred in the FA Cup tie with Liverpool. Arter is another who has attracted attention from bigger fish and has illustrated that he is very comfortable at Championship level. The next step is not beyond him.

Aaron Doran, Inverness Caley Thistle

The product of the Blackburn academy was on the fringes of Rovers' first-team squad – making a Premier League appearance at Stamford Bridge as a teenager under Sam Allardyce – before setting off to Scotland in search of game-time.

He has grown into a prominent player in the SPL and is an exciting player to watch, with excellent technique and an ability to produce the odd wonder goal.

Allardyce expected Doran to go on to better things and the 22-year-old can frustrate. Nevertheless, he remains an important creative force for Caley.

Luke Chambers, Ipswich

The defender is Northampton-born but has an Irish passport and is holding out for a call-up which is yet to materialise despite the FAI urging him to get clearance sorted during Giovanni Trapattoni's tenure.

Chambers is valued by Mick McCarthy, who awarded him the captain's armband with the East Anglians.

Stephen Gleeson, MK Dons

There are better-known Irish faces around him, with Daryl Murphy impressing this term and Stephen Hunt and Paul Green also doing their bit.

David McGoldrick, an ex-Nottingham Forest player like Chambers, was also on O'Neill's radar until he suffered a season-ending injury.

Chambers remained a fixture in McCarthy's plans, adapting to right-back while perhaps feeling more at home in the centre of defence.

The loss of Shaun Williams to Millwall in the January transfer window removed an important player from the Milton Keynes squad, but Gleeson remained a part of the furniture and now faces a decision on his future given that he's out of contract.

Baby-faced Gleeson is just 25, yet he's got plenty of mileage since leaving Wolves in 2009. He was part of Steve Staunton's US tour in 2007, and while he didn't really build on that he is another who harbours ambitions of a second coming in the green jersey.

In reality, the respected operator in League One has to follow in Williams' footsteps to really come into consideration.

Joe Murphy, Coventry

The experienced goalkeeper plies his trade for a basket-case club where off-field developments have dominated the narrative of their campaign.

Coventry were hit with a 10-point deduction before the season started because part of the club was in liquidation, and the once proud Sky Blues are now playing their home matches 34 miles away at the Sixfields home of Northampton on account of their poverty.

In the circumstances, they did well to pull clear of relegation and City fans recognise the value of Murphy, who has performed heroics this term.

Alan McCormack, Brentford

You might remember the dramatic conclusion to League One last season when Brentford loanee Marcello Trotta – a confident chap on loan from Fulham – smashed the penalty kick that would have assured their promotion against the crossbar and rivals Doncaster went straight down the other end to score within 20 seconds.

To their credit, the Bees put it right this time around, with 30-year-old defender McCormack – who arrived from Swindon last summer – an established presence as they booked their Championship ticket.

Niall Canavan, Scunthorpe

League Two provides a punishing education, and Canavan is sure to have learned from a campaign that ended with promotion.

The 22-year-old Leeds-born centre-half is a fixture in the heart of the Scunthorpe defence and is regarded as a vocal presence with a decent future in the game.

He was part of Noel King's Irish U-21 squad before growing out of that age group – he also put club before country in 2012 when a door to regular involvement with Scunny opened.

All things considered, it's worked out well for him and he will reflect on this campaign fondly.

Eddie Nolan and Paddy Madden are the other Irish faces in a squad that successfully returned to League One, along with Paul Cook's green-tinted Chesterfield panel.

Jonny Hayes, Aberdeen

It has been a very good season at Aberdeen, as they were just pipped for second in the SPL and collected the League Cup.

Willo Flood is the most recognisable Irish name at the club and he continues to be a force at that level, while Adam Rooney has scored goals since moving to Scotland again and U-21 international Joe Shaughnessy is a name to remember.

Hayes, a 26-year-old Dubliner who started his career at Reading, has proved a revelation this term, with injury the only annoyance. The winger has an eye for goal and his graph is on an upward curve.

Lee Frecklington, Rotherham

The 28-year-old's name is unlikely to instantly resonate with Ireland fans and that is understandable, given he only made one 'B' appearance during the Steve Staunton era.

However, insomniacs who catch Manish Bhasin and Steve Claridge run through the lower leagues in BBC's 'Football League Show' every Saturday night will probably be used to hearing the name.

David Mooney is Ireland's top scorer in League One, but Frecklington is next on the list and in double figures for the campaign as an attacking midfielder with a Rotherham side that are heading for a play-off final and vying for a jump to Championship level that would do wonders for the profile of the Lincoln native, who was with his home-town club when he caught Staunton's eye.

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