The Premier League in England kicked off last weekend and like most fans, I was really looking forward to the big kick off. Over the years, the amount of Irish players playing in the top league has always been huge. The likes of Liam Brady, John Giles, Roy Keane, David O’Leary, Mark Lawrenson, Frank Stapleton, Robbie Keane and many more who were always proud to pull on the green shirt, lined out for their various clubs as the first ball was kicked in anger.
Republic of Ireland managers over the years had a big pool of players to call on, when the international games came along. Last weekend I had to look very hard to find any Irish involvement around the games. On Sunday evening I trawled all the team sheets from the weekends games and to my total dismay, could only find seven Irish players who actually started in the various games for their clubs and four of those names all turned out for Burnley against Champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
This news should really have come as no shock, but in all fairness it is not a place Irish football wants to be. The news can also be greeted as a double edged sword for Martin O’Neill and his coaching staff. On one hand they can give themselves a huge pat on the back for having Ireland in any sort of a challenging position for qualification for next years World Cup Finals in Russia.
On the down side it leads me to wonder, where will our national team be in five years time. Most of the present squad are playing in the Championship and to step up from that level to International football is huge. The many planes and boats that leave these shores, still carry the best of our young talent over across the water to try and fulfil their football dreams of making it big in England. Although the talent is still been produced here, it is getting so much harder to make the break through in the top league.
The market they join over in England has changed over the years, if you look back about ten years there were probably about eighty Irish players lining out for clubs in the opening weekend in the top league. This problem is not just one for Irish players but also involves England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland players who are vying to get themselves some first team action.
One player who recently set off across the water to try and fulfil his dream was Cork City striker Sean Maguire who has joined Preston North End. Sean is one of the best players to leave these shores in many a long year and he is an out an out goal scorer and is exactly what Martin O’Neill is looking for at the moment, because since Robbie Keane retired we have been lacking in that position. Sean had been scoring goals for fun as he helped Cork City to the verge of the SSE Airtricity Premier League title. Playing with Preston will give him a great opportunity to establish himself and get some game time under his belt. If Sean can crack it, he could get himself into the window for better things and that in itself will be a welcome result for Martin O’Neill and his boys in green, it is just a shame that none of the Premier League teams took a chance and gave the lad a game.