In recent years, it has become more difficult for academy players to break through at English clubs and this is no different for Irish youngsters across the water.
Sean Maguire is a recent example of a talented player who struggled in England but rebuilt his career in the ever improving League of Ireland. Richie Towell is another example having become a goalscoring midfield machine after his release from Celtic, eventually earning a move to Brighton from Dundalk.
At the start of the League of Ireland campaign, ex-Premier League academy prospects like Alex O’Hanlon and Conor Clifford returned home in an attempt to rebuild their careers with Kenny McEvoy joining First Division Waterford after his release from Tottenham.
The likes of Dylan Connolly and Kieran Sadlier (although born in England) are further proof that a move to the League of Ireland is a perfect test for young footballers who have been let go by clubs in England.
In this transfer window, a number of Irish youngsters were released or joined new clubs that were arguably below the standard of the League of Ireland. Considering the amount of talent to come out of the league in recent years and the chance to compete for or play European footballer, it is difficult to know why fewer don’t follow in the likes of Towell and Maguire’s footsteps.
The following players were on the move this summer but a switch to the League of Ireland could have been more beneficial.
5. Daniel Cleary (Solihull Moors On Loan From Birmingham City)
Once highly regarded by Brendan Rogers at Liverpool, Daniel Cleary joined Birmingham City on a free transfer. However, the Dubliner has failed to feature for the Midlands club and has been shipped off to non-league side Solihull Moors for the season.
A ball-playing centre-back who seemed to be on the verge of the first team at Anfield, a move to one of his hometown clubs like Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers or St.Pat’s could have been a better fit than England’s non-league.
4. Fiacre Kelleher (Solihull Moors On Loan From Oxford)
Another to be loaned to Solihull, Corkman Kelleher just joined ambitious Oxford only to be immediately sent out to a non-league club. Cork City, whose centre-back Alan Bennett has struggled with injury this term, could have used a player of Kelleher’s leadership, who has captained Celtic’s academy side.
Brother of Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin, Kelleher has the potential to break into the Oxford side who spent big this summer.
3. Zachary Elbouzedi (Inverness Caledoian Thistle)
Many Irish fans were disappointed to learn that West Brom had released former Malahide United man Elbouzedi. The midfielder has a dazzling array of skills and was highly-rated at The Hawthorns. He has been described as one of the Premier League’s most promising academy prospects and now finds himself in the Scottish Championship with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
A move home could have been the perfect opportunity to kick-start his career having left the Premier League in similar circumstances to Sean Maguire who had been highly-rated at West Ham.
2. Noe Baba (Macclesfield Town)
Baba once looked like one of Ireland’s hottest properties and was set for stardom after being tracked by the likes of Manchester United.
Unfortunately for the Castlebar man spells at Fulham and Birmingham City heralded no first team promotion and he now finds himself in non-league with Macclesfield Town. He was linked with Sligo Rovers in June and we have seen a number of players join them from English sides in the past. However, this time it wasn’t to be.
1. Jack Byrne (Wigan Athletic)
Although transferred in January, should certainly get a mention on this list. Probably the one player on this list capable of playing at a very high level, especially considering his exploits in the Eredivisie. However, something seems to have gone terribly wrong for the Dubliner since his return from Holland.
Only managed a couple of appearances on loan at Blackburn last season and despite standing out in these games, had his loan spell cut short and joined Wigan permanently from Manchester City. However, without much explanation he rarely featured for the Latics as they were relegated from the Championship and has been made available for transfer.
It is unclear what has caused such a dramatic plummet for a player that has been deemed Ireland’s burning light but it seems things are not working out in England. A move home to regroup and get back on track could allow Byrne to showcase his undoubted talent and get back to the level that he’s capable of.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena