Sean Maguire’s continued exclusion from the Ireland squad has created one of the latest calls for a players inclusion into the Ireland squad.
Every squad announcement is met with disappointment due to the absence of at least one individual deserved of an opportunity to shine. League of Ireland players tend to fit this description on many occasions where in the past, players like Glenn Crowe, Jason Byrne and Joe Gamble were given the opportunity to prove their worth.
Daryl Horgan broke the mould of League of Ireland exclusion while at Dundalk alongside Andy Boyle and Gary Rogers. However, their full caps (apart from Rogers) did not come until they had secured moved to England with Preston North End. There was a clamour of calls for Brian Lenihan to get a call up while at Cork City with his name first appearing on an Irish squad after signing for Hull City.
With more ex-League of Ireland players than ever in the Ireland squad, it is clear that the pool to pick from will at least originate domestically. The entire Dundalk squad showed their capabilities in the Europa League last year as did Cork City in the qualifiers.
International football and European football has the same chess-like tactic tendencies and the players from both sets of squads showed that they can cope with these technical demands. Unfortunately this was not the view of the Irish management who are still reluctant to dip fully into the talent available at home.
In years gone by, a number of League of Ireland players have put their hands up for international selection. Some have had to wait until a move for England materialised while others were just never given a deserved break. Although there are countless amounts of players who some may feel deserved an Irish cap, we have narrowed it down to five recent examples.
St Pat’s great Mark Quigley was one of the league’s most instinctive finishers. He was the joint top scorer in 2008 while at Inchicore and scooped the League of Ireland’s player of the year award in 2012. A former Millwall youth, Quigley enjoyed spells at Dundlak, Sligo Rovers and Bohemiens but never received an international call up.
He had received underage call-ups in the past and was even ear-marked by Giovanni Trapattoni making him the only player on the list that came close to earning a cap under the Italian at the beginning of his tenure as Irish boss. Trap’s reluctance to select from the League of Ireland was the major stumbling block.
Quigley’s international honours last came at under-23 level in a domestic-based squad.
Kearney came onto the scene with Cork City around the same time as Wes Hoolahan with Shels. With Similar styles, Kearney was arguably the more exciting prospect. He actually replaced Hoolahan at Shelbourne following two fantastic years at his hometown club.
A regular in the Irish under-21 set up and part of the 2003 youth World Cup team, Kearney impressed for Cork in the UEFA Cup qualifiers and had the making of a future international. His form alone in the UEFA Cup in 2005 could have warranted a call up but nothing came of it.
Still only 22 at the time, Kearney could have thrived under then manager Brian Kerr who still to this day has an abundance of knowledge about the League of Ireland. Kearney’s momentum was harmed by his move to Shels’ and he never quite kicked on. A tricky winger with a low centre of gravity, Kearney would have been an exciting ticket in an Irish jersey.
One of the most technically gifted players to play in the League of Ireland in recent years, Brennan is still a free kick specialist with an eye for goal.
Another to impress in the then-named UEFA Cup with Derry City, the Drogheda-born midfielder had already earned caps from under-16 to under-19 level.
He signed for Bohs in 2008 where his free kick taking improved evermore with a dominant Gypsies side. His form saw the Dublin outfit win back to back titles but he too was a victim of Giovanni Trappatoni’s fear of selecting domestic players.
Brennan went on trial at Coventry in 2009 and this may have provided him with his international break but returned home and signed for Shamrock Rovers. At a time when Ireland were really lacking a set piece specialist, Brennan should have at least been given the opportunity to stake a claim for his country.
Another man to regularly find the net at St Pat’s, former Manchester United youth Fagan has made waves in the League of Ireland since arriving at Bohemians in 2011. Hitting double figures every season apart from 2015 where injuries played their part, Fagan’s finishing ability and attacking positioning is something that Ireland have lacked, especially now that Robbie Keane has retired.
Fagan can sometimes lack quality of the ball and with his hold up play which is becoming essential for international strikers but some may feel that his instinctive finishing should have been tested in at least least a friendly match. Although only 28, it seems the window for an international cap is closing.
Some will feel that Ritchie Towell’s struggles at Brighton have justified his exclusion form Irish squads in the past.
However, 43 League of Ireland goals in 96 appearances for a right back converted to a midfielder is something to be taken seriously. Towell’s physicality, technical ability and goal scoring instincts would have presented an alternative option for Martin O’Neill while he was at Dundalk.
The fact Paul Green was still named in provisional squads ahead of Towell showed O’Neill’s intentions. The one big criticism of Towell was his work rate off the ball but this is something that can be coached and given his scintillating form should have at least been given a call up in one of O’Neill’s massive provisional squads. Towell still has time for caps but some should have come during his time at full, throttle in the League of Ireland.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena