While it’s a little early to start talk of a golden generation of young Irish players down the tracks for the Republic of Ireland senior football side, there is hope.
It arrives in the form of a batch of young Irish players already being singled out by the likes of the Guardian as talents to watch. We look at the top young players likely to catch the eye of Martin O’Neill in the months and years to come. Irish youth football is undergoing a culture shift of late, in an effort to separate our youth system from an English one which consistently fails to produce at the top level. FAI High performance Director Ruud Doktor is working through a process which would keep our young players here for longer,
1) Kian Flanagan Crystal Palace
The young Crystal Palace attacking midfielder has already impressed in his first two U18 appearances, coming on late in the 0-0 draw against Holland and providing 2 excellent assists in the hard fought 3-2 defeat to Germany. The task will be hanging on to him before he reaches senior level as, unsurprisingly, England have taken an interest in prying the player away in much the same way they have with Dan Crowley and Marcus Agyei-Tabi. There’s also been transfer talk centred around teams like Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. His natural creativity, awareness and pace make him a prized figure in the Selhurst Park youth set up and the likelihood is he’ll remain there to develop for a few seasons at least.
2) James Finnerty Aston Villa
Another player named by the Guardian as one to watch not only among young Irish players but across the whole league. Coming from Belvedere FC to Aston Villa, Finnerty is already a fixture as a centre back in the Irish U17 side and looks likely to progress soon. He’s recently signed a full contract with Aston Villa and has already begun making a name for himself in Villa’s U23 side. If he can bounce back from a season beset with injury, he’ll likely soon be knocking on the door for a call up to the senior side.
3) Jack Byrne Manchester City
Currently on loan at Blackburn Rovers, the 20 year old can play as either Central Midfielder, Attacking Midfielder or Winger. After moving to Manchester at 15 to join up with City, he scored 6 goals in 8 games for them in the U19 UEFA Youth League. In 2015, Byrne was loaned out to Cambuur, in the Dutch Eiredivisie and, after missing the seasons’s first 6 weeks owing to an ankle injury, bounced back to make 27 appearances and score 4 times. He’s already trained with the Irish senior squad, but for now still plays with the U21 squad.
4) Ian Lawlor Manchester City
Pep Guardiola called the 22 year old Dubliner back from his loan spell at Bury near the end of the summer and seems keen to let the goalie fight for a place in the side. He made 12 appearances for Bury last season, keeping 5 clean sheets. The good news is he’s already been called up for the senior Irish squad by Martin O’Neill, having only appeared on the bench for friendlies , he made a competitive squad call up replacing Kieren Westwood.
5) Kevin Toner Aston Villa (currently on loan at Walsall)
With a couple of Premier League appearances under his belt at Villa already last season, then caretaker manager Erik Black tipped Toner for big things.
He deserves enormous credit. I’ve been really refreshed by his mentality and the desire to be a football player. It’s something that’s sadly missing at times now. So to see a young man who’s so passionate about being a football player and will do anything to be a football player is wonderful.
Coming from Home Farm, having previously played for his home club Ashbourne United, the young Meath centreback played 6 games for Kidderminster on loan from Villa before signing a 2 year contract with the Villains and being sent out on loan to Walsall.
There’s been some debate about the current crop of young Irish players and the potential they might bring the green shirt going forward. Are these the 5 players to make a difference?
What do you think? Is the future of the national team safe in these hands?
Title image courtesy: Scoopnest.com