It’s tougher at the top for our best young Irish prospects

Top English Premier League clubs are scouring the globe for the best young talent

 Jack Grealish: will be hoping to make a big impression with  Aston Villa’s first team this season. Photo: David Rogers/Getty

Jack Grealish: will be hoping to make a big impression with Aston Villa’s first team this season. Photo: David Rogers/Getty

Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 11:00

There will be few better days for Roy Keane to combine his club and county roles than the opening day of this new Premier League season.

Aston Villa’s visit to Stoke leaves the former Ireland skipper nicely placed to weigh up the early season form of Martin O’Neill’s options amongst the home team while also putting in his shift on the day job. There were won’t be too many weeks, though, during the coming months when things fall into place quite so nicely.

The number of Irish players involved with clubs in the English top flight will be generally but not dramatically down on the days when Keane played with Manchester United.

Critically, though, there is a significant decline in the quality of the opportunities available to them and as the new campaign opens Everton are again likely to be the top -placed side in which Ireland will maintain a real presence.

Really talented

Liam Brady lamented the fact last week that there are no really talented young Irish players coming through. While there are a handful of youngsters at Liverpool and Manchester United whose families might disagree, the leap from academy to A-list at the top four or five clubs is so difficult to make at this stage that it is almost impossible to be optimistic about them making the breakthrough.

Just a few years ago people talked excitedly about Conor Henderson at Arsenal and Chelsea’s Conor Clifford but they have started the new season at Crawley Town and Southend United respectively.

More recently, the trio of Samir Carruthers, Derrick Williams and Jack Grealish shared the same Villa bench for a Premier league game or two having impressed as the club won the NextGen series by beating Chelsea in the final.

Now, Grealish is the only one still at the club with Williams having decided it was time to go a year ago when he headed for Bristol City and Carruthers having made a permanent move last week to MK Dons where he spent the best part of last season before being sidelined by a knee injury.

And this is at Aston Villa, where the budget has been cut dramatically and the manager, Paul Lambert, has a reputation for giving young players their chance.

More competition

“It’s ever so much harder for the lads now than it was in my day,” says former Ireland under-21 international boss Don Givens who came through the Manchester United youth system and made his first debut at 19, “There’s so much more competition for them.

“I think the only thing that saves us is that our players tend to have a good attitude, a real hunger and determination to succeed and that helps them, even if they are let go. If you have that you can drop down the divisions and then come back, like I did when I went to Luton then came back to play for QPR.”

His successor in the under-21 job, Noel King, spends much of his time looking at players in those lower divisions – there are around 80 who are eligible in Championships squads compared to half that in the top flight.

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