The League of Ireland season has seen a number of youngsters emerge or further establish themselves. Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor are the latest in a line of Ireland-based players to make the move to England.
Ireland’s current squad is made up of a number of former League of Ireland players with this trend likely to continue with the improved standards in the league and emergence of technically gifted players. Between 2007 and 2011, Ireland fielded an under-23 team made up of League of Ireland players. Graduates include Irish cap Paddy Madden and Shaun Williams, who has built up a strong profile in the lower leagues of England.
With plenty of young talent available from the league and hoping to kick on to full international honours, we look at a hypothetical under-23 team that could be selected from current players. This team
This team is, of course, open to discussion with more than the mentioned players worthy of a place. Players must be born in or after 1994 to qualify.
Goalkeeper: Conor O’Malley (St. Patrick’s Athletic)
Despite only being 22, O’Malley is a seasoned campaigner with St. Pats. The Mayo man has kept the experienced Barry Murphy out of the side and will be key in Pat’s relegation fight.
Right-Back: Conor McDermott (Derry City)
McDermott has thrived under Kenny Shiels as a quick attack-minded full-back. Highly rated and fearless in both attack and defence, McDermott is showing maturity beyond his years this term, even though he does not turn 20 until September.
Ethan Boyle of Finn Harps is another capable of playing at right-back, although is more of a winger. He has also featured for Noel King’s under-21 side.
Centre Back: Seán Hoare (Dundalk)
Linked with Hull City in the past, Sean Hoare was signed as Andy Boyle’s replacement in the winter. A physical defender, who has had a quiet start to his Dundalk career, he is another to have featured at under-21 level.
Warren O’Hora, who has recently broken into the first team at Bohemians, looks a decent prospect as does his teammate Rob Cornwall.
Centre Back: Ryan Delaney (Cork City)
The Burton Albion man recently extended his loan spell at City until the end of the season. Delaney has so far been a revelation for the league leaders.
Having started out as a left-back, John Caulfield has used the Wexford man as a centre-half to great effect. A real leader who will be an asset to Burton should he return in the winter.
Left-Back: Trever Clarke
Edges Preston bound Kevin O’Connor, who is no doubt another huge talent. Former Middlesborough player Clarke has been one of the league’s hottest properties this season and has been utilised as a winger by Stephen Bradley.
Linked with Southampton, the pacey player has a big future ahead of him. If he continues to progress the way he has done up to this point, Clarke could be a full international in the next couple of years.
Right Wing: Kieran Sadlier (Cork City)
Cork’s latest recruit is a tremendous talent full of technical ability and flair. A former West Ham academy prospect, Sadlier is one of the league’s most talented midfielders and will hope to ease the attacking burdens left by Sean Maguire’s imminent departure to Preston.
St. Pat’s winger Alex O’Hanlon is another talented wide player. The former Liverpool man is enjoying a return to Ireland and will hope to avoid relegation.
Centre Midfield: Aaron McEneff (Derry City)
The former Spurs man is key to Derry’s attractive style and represents both a trojan work rate in the engine room and an attacking threat. With poise on the ball and a good range of passing, McEneff is one of the many players to controversially switch his allegiances from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland.
Fuad Sule is another energetic midfielder who has recently broken through at Bohemians, and the pocket-sized 20-year-old seems to be improving with each game.
Centre Midfield: Brandon Miele (Shamrock Rovers)
One of the most technically gifted players in the league, Miele has two caps at under-21 level and will hope to represent his country again. Has a similar style to Andy Reid and can play behind the striker, wide or in a deeper midfield position.
The ex-Newcastle man can dictate the play in midfield and will hope to learn more from his manager, and former midfielder, Stephen Bradley.
Left Wing: Dylan Connolly (Dundalk)
Connolly finally joined Dundalk after months of speculation and will compliment Michael Duffy well. With terrifying pace and a strong finishing ability, Connolly was part of the unfortunate Bray side which this week learned of financial turmoil bubbling under the surface.
The 22-year-old was highly rated at Ipswich by Mick McCarthy and could eventually find himself in an Ireland shirt.
Attacking Midfielder: Darragh Markey (St. Patrick’s Athletic)
Another to make a breakthrough this season, St Pat’s midfielder Darragh Markey has been key in his side’s relegation fight. Almost a combination of a young Wes Hoolahan and ex-Pat’s man Chris Forrester, Markey is of a slight build but has the ability to ghost past defenders, providing a creative treat.
Georgie Poynton of Bohemians, on loan from Dundalk, is another attacking midfielder with plenty of potential.
Striker: Sean Maguire (Cork City)
The Cork City man, with 36 goals in 49 games, qualifies for a short time before he departs for Preston.
Formerly of West Ham, it seems only a matter of time before the Kilkenny man receives a senior cap. St. Pat’s Josh O’Hanlon, formerly of Bournemouth, Shamrock Rovers’ Gary Shaw, and Irish-qualified Bohemians striker Izzy Akinade are other strikers under 23 that could make some waves in the coming years.
The League Of Ireland Under-23 XI:
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena