It has been an impressive season for Irish players in the Championship. Conor Hourihane, Ryan Manning and Daryl Horgan have made great strides but one man has slipped under the radar. Anthony Pilkington, remember him?
Lancashire-born Pilkington burst onto the scene with Stockport County and made the steep climb from non-league to the Premier League. He benefited from ex-Norwich boss Paul Lambert’s tendency to scale the lower leagues for its best talent and he arrived at Carrow Road from Huddersfield Town in 2011.
Pilkington took to the Premier League like a duck to water, even scoring a winner against Manchester United where he spent time in their academy.
Unfortuanatley for Norwich and Pilkington, the Canaries were relegated in 2014 prompting the exciting winger to leave the club. Despite being linked to an immediate return to the Premier League, he signed for an ambitious Cardiff who themselves were looking for a quick promotion following relegation. Unfortunately the Bluebirds have failed to gain promotion to the top flight ever since.
However, Pilkington has been one of their bright sparks for the last few seasons. The two-footed player is capable of playing on both wings or up front, and is both a creative outlet and goal threat.
He is adept from free-kicks too, has a quality delivery and is capable of cutting in on either side to to score from long range. Having been selected as a striker many times this season, Pilkington’s finishing has become a much improved aspect of his game.
The 28-year-old’s form this season has been extremely impressive but very rarely broadcasted to Ireland fans. With seven league goals (eight in all competitions) Pilkington is one of Cardiff’s key men.
However, this has never translated onto the international scene despite constant frustration at his exclusion during his time with Norwich. He has scored one goal in nine caps for the country he declared for at a young age.
In a team that lacks an abundance of technically gifted players, Pilkington would surely embody an alternative attacking option for Martin O’Neill. He has impressed in all of his games for Ireland, in particular in friendlies against Italy and the above game against the United States. Despite this, there has been no consistency in Pilkington’s selection, mainly owing to injury.
Ireland’s options on the wing are reasonably good at the moment. Aiden McGeady has rediscovered his form, James McClean has been Ireland’s standout player in the World Cup qualifiers and Daryl Horgan is living up to the hype he brought to Preston. However, with Robbie Brady suspended for the Wales game in the Aviva, Ireland will be craving a player with a consistent delivery and competency from set-pieces.
Daryl Horgan could provide this but he is raw at international level. Pilkington has played in World Cup qualifiers in the past and, given his form, could be considered by O’Neill as the replacement for Brady’s creativity. Pilkington’s last call-up came against Georgia in October and he has rarely been used by O’Neill during his tenure as boss. It seems surprising given that Pilkington has not exactly had a bad game for Ireland.
However, the reality is that Pilkington will not be anywhere near the pitch when Ireland take to the field against the Welsh. Despite his undoubted ability, Pilkington’s name was hardly mentioned in the build-up to the Euro 2016 squad announcement. Pilkington was impressive last season but seemed to be something of a forgotten man having been hot on the lips of Irish fans only four years previously. His consistent spells on he sidelines during international matches does not seem to have helped his cause either.
With O’Neill’s squad announcement just a few weeks away, Pilkington will hope to maintain his outstanding form this season. There is no reason that a late push for the squad could be made and having played up front recently could be a striking option for Ireland.
In the meantime, the tricky player will have to focus on trying to pull off some wizardry to catch the eye of the Irish management.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena