With Irish numbers in the Premier League dwindling year on year, Preston North End could be the team to bring an influx of green back to the top flight.
The Lancashire club have gained much attention from Irish punters over the last couple of months for all the right reasons. In early December, the club tied up pre-contracted deals for Dundalk hero’s Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle and in recent weeks, 86 times capped Aiden McGeady has dazzled at Deepdale with some scintillating displays from the wing.
What has struck Ireland fans most about the Lillywhites is their large Irish contingent. They have six Irishmen on their books and could potentially have a seventh now that Callum Robinson has been deemed eligible for Martin O’Neill’s charges. It draws memories of past Championship winners Reading and Sunderland who boasted several Irishmen who brought huge success. With only one loss in ten, Preston could be considered in the same ilk in years to come.
Simon Grayson’s side’s impressive run of form sees them a mere six points from the play-off positions. With momentum behind them and Aiden McGeady looking unplayable at times, Preston will hope to push for a promotion place with their Irishmen proving an integral part of their efforts. Here are those players hoping to bring Preston to their first ever Premier League season
Twenty-five year old Boyle was one of the leaders of the Dundalk team that appeared in the Europa League group phase. Although not the tallest centre-half, Boyle is a composed and athletic left-footed defender who is capable of scoring from set pieces.
Invited to train with Ireland as a guest in the past, Boyle earned his first international call-up for Ireland’s famous victory over Austria in Vienna. Although he is yet to make an appearance at Deepdale, Boyle is a regular on the bench for Grayson and will hope to make the breakthrough in due course.
Browne was brought to England from Cork City in 2014 and quickly established himself as an important part of the club. A technically gifted and combative player, Browne has captained Ireland at under 21 level and is adept in the holding midfield position.
The Cork man is capable of breaking up the play and turning defence into attack. He is highly rated at Preston and has shown plenty of bite on the pitch similar to fellow Cork native Roy Keane and his form will be bound to catch the eye of Ireland assistant manager.
The Galway native burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old for Manchester City and was highly rated by Roberto Mancini.
Unfortunately, like many youngsters at the bigger Premier League clubs, Cunningham left for first team football and signed for Preston via Bristol City. Having started off as a winger at youth level, Cunningham is growing into an agile left wingback who can also play on the left of a back three. Capped by Ireland during his days at City, the 26-year-old is on the fringes of an Ireland spot.
Currently on loan at League 2 side Portsmouth, Eoin Doyle joined Preston from Cardiff following a loan spell. Having been prolific at Chesterfield, the ex-League of Ireland player has only managed to find the net eight times for North End.
He was involved with a bizarre bust-up with team-mate Jermaine Beckford earlier in the year which did very little to help his selection prospects in a team packed with strikers. However, a good spell at Pompey could put him back into the reckoning when he returns in the summer.
Arguably the form Irish player of the last 18 months. Horgan’s Europa League heroics saw him catch the eye from Dundalk and gather admirers in England with Preston winning the race for his signature.
Some feared for a Ritchie Towell-style outcome for the winger but he has taken to the Championship like a duck to water. With one goal already and several dazzling performances, Horgan is quickly becoming a fan favourite at Deepdale and could soon be an Ireland regular.
Possibly the most high profile player at Deepdale after ex-Manchester United keeper Anders Lindegaard. Having initially struggled to get game time under Simon Grayson, the Everton loanee looks to be enjoying his football again.
He has been given the similar licence to cut in from the left that saw him enjoy so much success at Celtic and has been hugely responsible for Prestons success this season. Although it seems inevitable he will leave Everton in the summer, if his form continues he could be back in the Premier League next season either with or without North End.
Although he has yet to formally declare, Robinson qualifies under the Granny Rule and will be watched with an eager eye by Martin O’Neill who is craving a striker.
A tricky and speedy player capable of playing either up front or on the wing, Robinson has scored eight goals this season having joined on a permanent deal from Aston Villa in the summer. He has enjoyed great service from Horgan and McGeady either side of him and could experience the same productivity in a green jersey in the near future.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena