ROI Radar: The best Irish prospects in every position
A position by position look at the future of Irish Football.
Amid some negativity surrounding the Irish senior team, it would be easy to forget about the many exciting prospects coming through the various underage ranks.
The Ireland underage teams have been punching considerably above their weight in recent years despite obvious issues in the grassroots game.
Some players as young as sixteen are playing League of Ireland Football, others are thriving in English academies and some have even packed their bags for exciting adventures on the continent.
Ireland U15s: Torneo Delle Nazioni winners, won 10/10 games this year
Ireland U16s: Victory Shield and UEFA Development Tournament champions, unbeaten season
Ireland U17s: Went unbeaten in their last eight games to qualify for the U17 Euros
Unreal stuff from players & staff 👏 pic.twitter.com/Jc3ObfA7EX
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) May 15, 2023
With all of that in mind, I’ve compiled a starting eleven of who I believe to be Ireland’s best prospects in each position
Judging and comparing players’ potential is almost impossible but those who are playing first team football at a very young age are preferred in most positions for fairly obvious reasons.
Criteria: Under the age of twenty-one and not already an Irish international
The Irish Prospects to watch out for:
Goalkeeper: Josh Keeley
Club: Tottenham U21s
Josh Keeley (GK, 19) snapped in first team training with Tottenham today 📸
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) February 22, 2023
The Ireland U21 number one has enjoyed a brilliant start to the season, starting five of seven games for Premier League 2 leaders Tottenham Hotspur.
Ireland’s goalkeeping options are strong at the moment, with Gavin Bazunu, Caoimhin Kelleher and Mark Travers providing healthy competition for each other, but former St Pat’s man Keeley didn’t have especially steep competition for his place in this Prospects XI.
Honourable mention: Andrew Wogan (Drogheda)
Right back: Sam Curtis
Club: St Patrick’s Athletic
Two fabulous balls – one after the other – from Sam Curtis to set up a St Pat's goal last night 🇮🇪⚽👏
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) October 21, 2023
The easiest player to pick in this team and the youngest player to ever play in the League of Ireland; Sam Curtis has been a sensation at right back since making his senior debut at just 14.
Curtis has been a regular for St Pat’s for the past two seasons but is expected to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of this season. The 17-year-old is the current first-choice right back in the Irish 21s and has a huge future in the game.
Honourable mention: Kaylem Hartnett (Wexford)
Right centre back- Cathal Heffernan
Club: Newcastle United U21s
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) November 7, 2023
Hailing from Cork, Cathal Heffernan has been much talked about in Irish football since his move to AC Milan in 2022.
Now at Newcastle United after joining at the start of the season, Heffernan has captained the Magpies’ U21s in recent games, including in a UEFA Youth League game against Borussia Dortmund (in which he scored!).
The 18-year-old will be seeking a loan move in due course, but will have no doubt benefited from learning his trade at elite clubs with elite facilities – something he unfortunately wouldn’t have been able to do had he stayed at home in the League of Ireland until eighteen.
Honourable mention: Bosun Lawal (Celtic, on loan at Fleetwood)
Left centre back – Anselmo Garcia MacNulty
Club: PEC Zwolle
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) October 27, 2023
Born in Spain, Anselmo Garcia MacNulty qualifies to play for Ireland through his Irish born mother.
MacNulty, now an Irish U21 international, signed for Eredivise side PEC Zwolle from Wolfsburg over the summer after a successful loan spell with NAC Breda in the Dutch second division last season.
A ball-playing centre half, the 20-year-old left footer has been a regular for his club this season and will look to continue his upward career trajectory by breaking into the Ireland senior set up in the coming years.
Honourable mention: Sean Grehan (Crystal Palace)
Left back: Sean Roughan
Club: Lincoln City
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) August 8, 2023
Another current Irish U21 international, Sean Roughan is a player who has been tipped to become a Premier League player by many.
Since joining Lincoln in 2020, Roughan has played consistent men’s football over the course of three different seasons, including 15 league games with the Imps this campaign.
It was a toss up between him and Alex Murphy of Newcastle United for this spot, but Roughan’s wealth of experience playing men’s football edged it in his favour.
Honourable mention: Alex Murphy (Newcastle)
Centre-midfield: James McManus
Club: Bohemians FC
Ireland U19 midfielder James McManus for Bohemians tonight
⏱ 90 minutes played
📊 81% pass completion (43/53)
🏹 7 accurate long balls
👏 10 passes into the final third
⚔ 2 tackles won
🧠 4 interceptions made
🪄 1 chance created
💥 1 shot taken#COYBIG pic.twitter.com/Z7o8tFZJ1Q
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) March 6, 2023
When compared to other positions on this list, it’s fair to say there is a lack of strength in depth in the defensive midfield department.
James McManus is, however, a very highly rated prospect in Irish football at the moment, making 24 appearances this season in the league, scoring two goals and providing two assists.
And the 18-year-old is unlikely to be in Ireland much longer, with Bohs knocking back a reported fee of €250,000 from an unnamed Championship club at in July.
Honourable mention: Rory Finneran (Blackburn)
Centre-midfield: Romeo Akachukwu
Club: Waterford FC
⏱️ 62' Introduced (Waterford 0-0 Athlone)
⚽ 65' GOAL (Waterford 1-0 Athlone)
⚽ 78' GOAL (Waterford 2-1 Athlone)
⚽ 95' GOAL (Waterford 3-1 Athlone)
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) October 28, 2023
Romeo Akachukwu is an all-round midfielder and the first member from his Euro quarter-final reaching Irish U17 team to appear on this list.
Tall, physical and technically sound, Akachukwu has made 18 appearances in the First Division this season for Waterford FC.
The 17-year-old made headlines recently by scoring a second half hat-trick in the First Division promotion semi-final as Waterford made their way to the final.
Akachukwu was reportedly on trial with Newcastle United earlier this season and will be able to move once he turns eighteen next summer.
Honourable mention: Justin Ferizaj (Frosinone)
Attacking Midfield: Naj Razi
Club: Shamrock Rovers
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) March 13, 2023
A player who has been all over social media in the past few weeks, Naj Razi is a man in demand with a host of top European clubs including Real Madrid keeps tabs on his development.
After an extremely impressive performance for the Ireland U17s at the Euros in the summer, Razi built on that heading into this season to make both his European and League debuts for Shamrock Rovers.
A tricky, technically gifted attacking midfielder who uses his low centre of gravity to turn quickly, Razi represents the exact type of player lacking in the current Irish senior team.
The teenager will surely get a move to a top European club in the near future, and will follow a long line of talented Shamrock Rovers academy graduates who have moved on.
(Andrew Moran is a soon to be Irish international which is why he has been left out here)
Honourable mention: Jamie Mullins (Brighton U21s)
Left winger: Ike Orazi
Club: Stade de Reims
Outstanding run from Ike Orazi (Shamrock Rovers, 15) 🔥
Tidy finish from Naj Razi (Shamrock Rovers, 16) 🎯
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) February 9, 2023
Another star of that Irish U17 team, Ike Orazi is a highly rated prospect on the left wing for Ireland.
While still just fifteen during the European Championships, Orazi scored two goals and provided two assists for the U17s to firmly capture viewers’ attention.
The teenager opted to move to France to join Stade de Reims shortly later – a club who hold an excellent reputation for developing young talent by giving opportunities to academy graduates.
Orazi is a name you will continue to hear in the coming years but we must give a very honourable mention to Kevin Zefi who could have very easily been picked in Ike’s place.
Honourable mention: Kevin Zefi (Inter Milan)
Right winger: Trent Kone-Doherty
Club: Liverpool U21s
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) November 1, 2022
Born in Derry, Trent Kone Doherty came through the Derry City academy before joining Liverpool in July 2022.
Kone-Doherty missed the U17 European Championships in the summer due to injury but has put that behind him this season, making four appearances for Liverpool’s u21 side and scoring one goal.
He has also scored five goals in as many games for the Merseyside’s U18 side this season.
The 17-year-old is highly rated at Liverpool as shown by his inclusion in first team training ahead of their game against Everton in October.
Jurgen Klopp is not against giving academy players chances in the first team, with Ben Doak’s rise from Liverpool’s U18 side to the first team standing as a perfect example for Kone-Doherty to follow.
Honourable mention: Rocco Vata (Celtic)
Striker: Mason Melia
Club: St Patricks Athletic
Mason Melia with a (televised) 98th minute penalty on his 16th birthday 🇮🇪⚽🔥
— ROI Radar 🇮🇪⚽🔥 (@IrelandRadar) September 22, 2023
The youngest player in this team and the youngest ever League of Ireland goalscorer, Mason Melia is another huge League of Ireland prospect.
Like Ike Orazi, The Wicklow teenager starred for the Ireland u17s in the summer at just 15 years of age.
However, unlike Orazi, Melia is expected to sign a new deal at St Pats, with a move to the continent not appealing to the striker.
Melia was on trial with Manchester City earlier this season and has scored two goals in ten league appearances for St Pat’s.
The dynamic, young striker’s development will be a keen focus for the Inchicore club if he decides to continue his development at home.
Melia rounds up the eleven as the fifth current Legue of Ireland player in the team.
Special mention to Mark O’Mahony who was Melia’s main competitor for the striker berth (and fellow PL2 sharp-shooters Nathan Fraser and Franco Umeh!).
Honourable mention: Mark O’Mahony (Brighton)