Three Irish lads to watch in the Premier League this season
After the disappointment of Euro 2012, here are three Irish players we hope will make an impact in the Premier League this season.
Mark O’Toole will be watching Robbie Brady
The savannah of Irish football history is littered with the vulture-picked carcasses of football protégés.
There’s no doubting that it’s a long time since we’ve produced a world-calibre midfield maestro, Duffer is probably the last one and Roy Keane before him. You have to go back further for a genuine playmaker in Liam Brady or John Giles.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been players that we have talked up as the next big thing, players like Barry Quinn, Stephen McPhail, Martin Rowlands and Owen Garvan have all been touted as having the spark that might ignite the Irish midfield.
There’s even that famous apocryphal tale of Gerard Houllier going to a Liverpool reserve team match to scout Richie Partridge and ending up being impressed with Steven Gerrard.
With Man United’s Robbie Brady we hope it’s different . Big things have been expected of the 20-year old for a long time and a successful loan spell to Hull in the rough and tumble of the Championship last season looks to have hardened him up for the Premier League.
Alex Ferguson looks set to blood him as he brought him on United’s pre-season tour and Ferguson has said that he could be the deputy for Patrice Evra at left-back this term.
Even uber-conservative coach Trapattoni conceded he would have brought Brady to the friendly against Serbia had the Irish Under 21s not had a crucial Euro qualifier against Turkey this week (Incidentally, with six goals in ten appearances, Brady is the joint highest goalscorer ever for the Irish U21s alongside Stephen Elliot, Owen Garvan and Kevin Doyle).
We can expect him to hopefully make the breakthrough to both first teams before the season is out.
So what can fans expect?
Brady, despite Ferguson’s utterances, will end up playing midfield. He’s a player with vast technical skill, married to a newly developed physical sturdiness, he can pass the ball too, making him exactly the type of player we need to see Ireland develop.
If it all pans out, a midfield with James McClean, James McCarthy, Brady and possibly a returning David Meyler looks a lot better for Ireland, but as we have seen before, he will need a bit of luck along the way.
Sean Nolan will be watching Ciaran Clark
With 35 Premier League games under his belt Ciaran Clark is probably not a new face to any of you but we expect this season to be a big one for the talented Aston Villa man.
Now 22, the one-time England Under 18 and 19 captain has probably suffered a bit to date because of his versatility. A central defender by trade, his ability on the ball has seen him play in the centre of midfield, and at left-back, for Villa at times but under new boss Paul Lambert we expect him to finally nail down a starting slot in defence.
With James Collins now gone, and Richard Dunne becoming worryingly injury prone, the defensive options available to Lambert look very thin. Based on the pre-season teams sent out by the Scot, Clark seems to be ahead of other candidates for a start, like new signing Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker.
Dunne is out for the first few weeks of the season too, but we hope that we will see him partner Clark for club and country this term.
While John O’Shea and Darren O’Dea did the job for us in Serbia, a central two of Clark and Dunne would be ideal for Ireland in a very difficult qualification group for Brazil 2014, especially if we decide to build a bit more from the back rather than hump it long.
It is now almost 18 months since Clark last appeared in green, in a friendly against Uruguay, and Giovanni Trapattoni has already stated that he sees Clark as a defender, not a midfielder. It might be time to utilise him in that position then, especially as Dunne can’t go on forever.
At least we know at Villa he will be deployed in defence almost exclusively. The Midlanders struggled badly last season, just avoiding the drop. Even with the deathly hand of Alex McLeish moved on, Lambert faces a tough job to get his team up the table. Clark looks like he is central to Villa’s hopes for a brighter 2012/13. Fingers crossed he does enough to worm his way back into green too.
Conor Heneghan will be watching Shane Duffy
The fact that Shane Duffy is even still playing today is a remarkable achievement considering that barely two years have passed since the horrific and completely freak injury he suffered at an Irish training camp that threatened his life as well as his career.
The Derry man has come back strongly from the experience, however, and last season represented a significant step-up in his development as he made a number of appearances in the Everton first team in the absence of Phil Jagielka and was also called up to the Irish senior squad for the first time.
Producing top class centre halves has never been a problem for Ireland in recent times, but with Richard Dunne’s international future looking more and more uncertain and John O’Shea increasingly hampered by injury in the twilight of his career, the heart of the Irish defence might start to look a little threadbare in the near future.
In that regard, we can only hope that David Moyes trusts Duffy enough to use him more often in this campaign, but it may be only in the event of an injury to one of Sylvain Distin, Johnny Heitinga or Jagielka that Duffy is pressed into action on a regular basis. As a result, Duffy could be sent out on loan again this season, but that might be no bad thing.
After winning the man of the match award in his first game, he did well in a spell with Scunthorpe last season and as he doesn’t turn 21 until January, he has plenty of time to establish himself at club and international level.
Duffy might have to wait for his chance, but he shouldn’t get itchy feet either. Everton are a good club and David Moyes is a good manager and his competitors for the centre half berths are either already the wrong side of 30 (Distin) or fast approaching that milestone (Jagielka and Heitinga). He’ll get his chance… eventually.
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