Taking stock: Promising signs for Stephen Kenny in Irish Premier League numbers
Although involvement in top clubs remains low, breakthroughs continue for young players
Aaron Connolly scores for Brighton in the final round of Premier League games against Burnley at Turf Moor. Photograph: Alex Livesey/AFP via Getty Images
The Premier League debuts made by three of the country’s brightest prospects helped to ensure that the campaign just concluded was a decent one for Ireland’s emigrants to the English top flight.
None of the players available to Stephen Kenny was actively involved in what passed for a title race but it was still an encouraging one from the association’s point of view with more debuts and more many minutes than in recent years for players who started their careers in the Irish schoolboy football system.
Once again there would have been no Irish player who had featured for a top six club but the five minutes of so played over the course of two substitute appearances by Troy Parrott for Tottenham. Dublin-born, London-raised Dennis Cirkin also made ground at the north London club too and there were positives elsewhere for Kenny.
Along with Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah, Parrott was one of three of Kenny’s under-21 side to make their Premier League debuts. The other two strikers became fixtures in or around their first teams with Connolly scoring a very fine goal at the weekend to round off what was a breakthrough campaign for him. In 14 starts and a further 10 appearances from the bench he played more than 1,200 minutes of top -flight football and scored three goals.
Notwithstanding his remarkable FA Cup hat-trick, 19 year-old Idah struggled by comparison but still gained hugely valuable experience despite Norwich’s relegation. London-born midfielder Will Smallbone, an Irish underage international who had yet to graduate to under-21 level, made big strides at Southampton with four league starts and a further five appearances.
The other debutants already had plenty of first-team football under their belts but John Egan has plenty of reason to reflect with satisfaction with the way his first campaign at this level panned out.
Meanwhile, Conor Hourihane’s delight that there is to be a second in quick succession was abundantly apparent in his post-match interviews on Sunday.
Hourihane got only half the amount of first-team football he had done when Villa were in the Championship the previous season but is still bound to see this as something to build on. Egan and his Sheffield United team-mate Enda Stevens will do well just to match what they achieved this season with the pair clocking up 3,189 and 3,347 minutes respectively out of a possible 3,420.
David McGoldrick lagged some way behind on 1,825 and only two goals, numbers that might be regarded as disappointing were it not for his hugely influential role in the team. The striker was hailed to such an extent over the course of the season for his ball-winning abilities and passing, that the goals, both of them in the recent game against Chelsea, were seen as something of a bonus.
Matt Doherty had another really good season, comfortably eclipsing his friend and rival for the Irish right-back spot Séamus Coleman, while James McCarthy finally re-established himself at this level with Crystal Palace where he started 16 games and came on in 17 more, far in excess of what he had managed in the previous three campaigns combined.
Jeff Hendrick would presumably have gone on to improve on his figures for the previous season had his failure to agree a new deal at Burnley not resulted in him being sidelined through the final stages of the campaign. Shane Long did agree a new contract at Southampton, played a few more minutes and scored a couple of goals, a better showing than might have been expected last summer.
Despite managing pretty much half the game time, though, Michael Obafemi seemed to restore momentum to a career that had briefly threatened to run out of it when his attitude was criticised back at the start of the year. In all he played 660 minutes of Premier League football and scored three goals, the most recent of them a late equaliser at Old Trafford.
Shane Duffy will be frustrated to have lost his status as an automatic starter at Brighton where he featured in 19 games, seven of them from the bench. That was down from 35 starts in 2018/19 but he can count himself as fortunate when compared to Ciaran Clark, who did so well to re-establish himself as a mainstay of the Newcastle defence before an injury back in February brought his season to a sudden end. An operation carried out to address the problem did not seem to go well and Clark will have to start from scratch once again in a couple of months time.
He will most likely face increased competition by then for his place in the Ireland squad with Dara O’Shea having seriously impressed during the second half of West Brom’s successful push for promotion. The 21-year-old Dubliner is widely reported to have attracted attention from the more established top-flight clubs but now has the opportunity to progress under manager Slaven Bilic, who clearly believes very strongly in him.
Having gone there on loan and done his bit too, Callum Robinson may yet be offered the opportunity to stay but said last week that he would be a Sheffield United player until told otherwise.
Games played by all players declared for Ireland in the Premier League campaign just concluded (starts/substitute appearances/total minutes)
Robbie Brady (Burnley) 5/12/448
Séamus Coleman (Everton) 21/6/1839
Aaron Connolly (Brighton) 14/10/1262
Ciaran Clarke (Newcastle United) 14/0/1189
Matt Doherty (Wolves) 32/4/2840
Shane Duffy (Brighton) 12/7/1231
John Egan (Sheffield United) 36/0/3189
Jeff Hendrick (Burnley) 22/2/1935
Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa) 18/9/1539
Adam Idah (Norwich City) 1/11/219
Kevin Long (Burnley) 6/2/562
Shane Long (Southampton) 15/11/1397
James McCarthy (Crystal Palace) 16/17/1668
David McGoldrick (Sheffield United) 22/6/1825
Michael Obafemi (Southampton) 8/13/660
Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur) 0/2/5
Darren Randolph (West Ham) 2/0/180
Callum Robinson (Sheffield United) 9/7/676
Will Smallbone (Southampton) 4/5/392
Enda Stevens (Sheffield United) 38/0/3347
Mark Travers (Bournemouth) 1/0/90