On Tuesday, the Ireland under-19 team narrowly missed out on qualification for the European Championships on goal difference.
However, their elite campaign heralded impressive victories against Italy and Belgium, two sides with a traditionally strong record of producing players at youth level. Despite the 3-0 loss to Sweden, this Irish side exuded signs that a golden generation is coming through.
On first glance, many will wonder what the hype is considering the team failed to qualify. The reality is that this group have not only gathered plaudits at international level but some of the individuals involved are highly regarded at club level with many already training with their respective Premier League first teams.
Although narrowly missing out, the team put in some impressive performances playing an attractive brand of football. Some magnificent individual performances were also evident from the qualifiers with this collection of players showing much more hope for the future of Irish football than the underage sides of the last few years.
The bulk of the side played at the 2015 Under-17 European Championships and will hope to kick on to under-21 level with a number of players in the side already capable of making the step up.
Here we examine some of the key men in Tom Mohan’s side that could be pivotal players in the senior set-up sooner rather than later.
Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool)
Cork native Kelleher is one of the under-19’s star players and features regularly for the Liverpool under-23s. The former Ringmahon Rangers man joined the Reds in 2015 and is highly regarded at the club.
A leader on the pitch, the goalkeeper will hope to benefit from Jurgen Klopp’s tendency to give youth a chance. Kelleher kept two clean sheets in the elite phase for Ireland against two top class sides.
Conor Masterson (Liverpool)
Another man who is making waves in the youth set-up at Liverpool. Dubliner Masterson epitomises the modern centre-half, and although robust and powerful in the air is also tidy with his feet and capable of playing out from the back.
He has trained with the Liverpool first team and looks like one of the most likely Irish players in a long time to make a first team breakthrough in the Premier League.
Tyreke Wilson (Manchester City)
Part of the vibrant youth set-up at Manchester City, Tyreke Wilson is another man who has experienced training with a Premier League first team.
The former Cherry Orchard man usually plays in Ireland’s problem position of left-back and is a pacy defender. Could feature very soon for Noel King’s under-21 side soon and was impressive during the qualifying campaign.
Zachary Elbouzedi (West Bromwich Albion)
One of the most exciting Irish prospects in years, Elbouzedi can play across the midfield and as a striker. A graduate of Malahide United, the West Brom man is technically brilliant and is blessed with tremendous quick feet.
Caught the eye at the Under-17 European Championships in 2015 and will hope to impress his manager, Tony Pulis, at club level who has given several academy players Premier League breaks.
Ronan Hale (Birmingham City)
On the books at Birmingham, brother Rory of Aston Villa was in the under-21 side to face Kosovo. Prolific at youth level for the Blues, Hale is an instinctive and powerful striker.
He scored a peach of a goal against Portugal earlier this year and could be a key man for Ireland in what is a problem position. Scored the penalty that put Ireland 2-0 up against the Italians.
Trever Clarke (Shamrock Rovers)
Clarke is making a huge impression at Shamrock Rovers this season and is one of the few under-19 players playing senior football.
Having spent time with Middlesbrough, the aggressive left-footed player is equally adept at full-back or on the wing. Could be another player to earn a big move to England should his early season form continue.
Jayson Molumby (Brighton and Hove Albion)
The Waterford man is making good progress at Chris Hughton’s Brighton and is becoming a key player for Tom Mohan’s under-19 team.
Molumby can play as both a holding and attacking midfielder and is an energetic player. Comfortable in possession and a confident passer, Molumby will certainly be giving his club manager, a former Irish international himself, some food for thought.
Connor Ronan (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Absent from the squad through injury, Ronan is one of the Championship’s highest rated youngsters and was making good strides under Paul Lambert before being ruled out. Played against his native England in the under-17 Euros and is committed to the Irish cause.
With great vision and technical ability, Ronan has a similar playing style to Wes Hoolahan and could be fast tracked to the senior set-up should he come back strongly from injury.
Conor Levingston (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Goalscorer against Italy, Conor Levingston has been a key player for the under-19s and is the cog in midfield that keeps the team ticking.
The Gorey man tends to play in the holding role and is a calm head capable of breaking up play and releasing his attacking players. Was impressive in the victory against Belgium and showed a lot of composure on the ball when it was needed.
Anthony Scully (West Ham United)
Another man eligible for England, father Tony played at under-21 and B level for the Boys in Green. A composed and very creative midfielder, Scully has already signed on professional terms with West Ham.
Although absent for the last round of qualifiers, Scully’s name could be hot on the lips of Irish fans in a couple of years time.
Corey O’Keeffe (Birmingham City)
A versatile player, Birmingham native O’Keeffe has played for Ireland all the way from under-16 level. Capable of playing across the backline and in central midfield, the 18-year-old made his debut against Newcastle in December.
Although slightly built, O’Keeffe possesses great determination and is a threat going forward.
Declan Rice (West Ham United)
Another West Ham man that is highly rated at the London Stadium. Rice is a composed defender and was named Player of the Year at under-17 level before his step up to Mohan’s side.
A vocal player who leads his team well both for Ireland and at West Ham, Rice was impressive in the 2-0 victory against Italy last week.
Josh Barrett (Reading)
Another man who missed the campaign, Barrett has already made his first team debut at Reading and will not be far behind club mate Liam Kelly in making the breakthrough.
Having played GAA as a child, Barrett is a quick attacking player who can play on the wing or as a striker. He has already featured at under-21 level.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena