There has been a lot of talk lately about the lack of talent coming through in Irish soccer. People seem to look at the senior team and when they don’t see any players under the age of 23 like England’s Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw and Raheem Sterling, the immediate reaction is that Ireland are very far behind in world soccer.
However, there are several Irish footballers who have the potential to be important for Ireland’s future:
The goalkeepers of the under-21 side have the very same problem as the senior team. They’re not getting enough games for their respective clubs. Aaron McCarey only played ten league games all season, five for York and five for Wolves. He came into the side in January after Carl Ikueme picked up a knock that kept him out for five games. During that time, McCarey kept three clean sheets but it wasn’t enough to nail down a regular place in the side. Sean McDermott plays in the Norwegian Tippeligaen for Sandnes Ulf. After getting dropped for the final three league games of the season last term, the future for McDermott at Sandnes doesn’t look bright after they signed Icelandic goalkeeper Hannes Halldórsson. Both of these goalkeepers have been tipped to step up to senior level very soon but they’re in the same boat and need more playing time at the club level.
A lot of the hopes of Irish fans for the next Richard Dunne or Paul McGrath have been pinned on Derry native Shane Duffy. He was on loan at Yeovil Town from Everton this season and the central defender has been one of the few Yeovil players who had his reputation enhanced after a very difficult season for the Glovers. Duffy was impressive this season and has done well to get his career back on track after suffering a life-threatening injury in a match between Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland development squad and the Ireland amateur side.
Young full-back Matt Doherty has had an impressive season for League One winners’ Wolverhampton. Carl McHugh’s fairy tale season last year was always going to be very hard to live up to after he scored a brilliant header in the Capital One Cup semi-final against Aston Villa to send Bradford through to the final at Wembley. Since then, they’ve gained promotion and stayed afloat in League One and McHugh has been improving immensely.
This area has the most talent coming through from the country. Sean Murray was outstanding for Watford after breaking onto the scene a few years back under Malky Mackay. For the 2012-13 campaign, he was Watford’s Young Player of the Season Award.
At Derby County, Jeff Hendrick has shown what he’s made off playing a massive role in the run in his squad’s third place finish this year.
Jack Grealish has been one of the best players in League One this season. He had five goals and five assists this term and the 18-year-old is eligible to play for England so he should get a competitive debut for Ireland very soon if they plan to keep him.
Ireland have had some fantastic strikers over the years but with Robbie Keane not getting any younger, there doesn’t seem to be anybody who can step up and take his place as number one striker for Ireland. With Michael Drennan only having one under-21 cap, he needs another campaign at that level. His record for his country at youth level includes scoring 10 goals in 10 games together in all levels.
Graham Burke is another one of the huge Irish contingent at Aston Villa, which includes Drennan, Shay Given, Ciaran Clark, Enda Stevens, Samir Carruthers and Jack Grealish. Graham was the top scorer for the under-19 NextGen Series in which Aston Villa won.
Aiden O’Brien hasn’t had a brilliant club career so far playing mostly in the conference but when he puts on the green jersey he becomes a new man scoring goals for fun and is only two goals away from Robbie Brady’s under-21 goal scoring record.
All in all, the future is very bright for Irish soccer. If these young men stay on the path they’re going then Ireland may become a threat by the 2018 World Cup.