With the Premier League promotion race hotting up, here we assess the best possible outcome for the Irish national team.
With the Irish contingent in the Premier League low, Martin O’Neill will be hoping more players will be appearing in the top flight next season.
David Meyler and Stephen Ward were the only two Irish players to gain promotion last term but more are in a better position to do so this this time around.
Irish players: Rob Elliot, Ciaran Clark, Daryl Murphy
The Magpies are one of the favourites for an immediate return to the Premier League. Rafa Benietez has rebuilt a team of players who fit the profile of the club, with Irish regulars Ciaran Clark and Daryl Murphy part of the process.
Rob Elliot was arguably Ireland’s form goalkeeper last season but missed out on the Euros after an unfortunate injury. Benitez could also look to bring in Alan Judge on a free in the summer. The Brentford winger has been heavily linked with a move to Tyneside in the last year.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Irish players: Shane Duffy, Richie Towell
Brighton have recovered from the disappointment of last season’s botched promotion bid to push for one of the two automatic spots. One the most attractive teams to watch in the league, ex-Ireland international Chris Hughton would become the only Irish manager in the Premier League should they gain promotion.
From an Irish perspective, it would be beneficial if Shane Duffy gets a crack as a Premier League regular, with Richie Towell still very much on the fringes at Brighton.
Irish players: Paul McShane, Stephen Quinn, Liam Kelly, Josh Barrett
Traditionally packed full of Irish talent, the Royals are captained by Ireland regular Paul McShane who is thriving under Jaap Stam. Stephen Quinn, who travelled to the Euros, has endured an injury-plagued season but is a popular figure at the Madejski Stadium.
Promotion for Reading will see one of Ireland’s most exciting prospects, Liam Kelly, in the top flight. The technically gifted midfielder has been a revelation during his breakthrough season. Josh Barrett is another exciting young player on the books who has played GAA in England as a youth.
Irish players: Sean Scannell, Joe Murphy
Huddersfield have been one of thisseason’s success stories under David Wagner. However, not much of the success has been down to Irish players. Former wonderkid Sean Scannell has been at the club since 2012 and has enjoyed a productive spell with the Terriers.
Scannell has been used sporadically by Wagner and, despite his blistering pace, has been in and out of the squad. Former Ireland understudy Joe Murphy is also at the club but is currently on loan at Bury.
Irish players: Eunan O’Kane
Gary Monk has put the sleeping giants in contention for a long awaited Premier League return. Five times capped O’Kane joined in the summer from Bournemouth and will be hoping for a swift return to the Premier League.
Dubliner Eoghan Stokes has been prolific at under-23 level but with his contract due to expire this summer it is difficult to know if Monk will give him what seems a deserved chance at Elland Road.
Irish players: Kieran Westwood
Last year’s playoff runners up Sheffield Wednesday have invested heavily to develop one of the Championship’s most high profile squads.
Kieran Westwood is one of their stars and has been arguably the best goalkeeper in the league for the last two seasons. On loan wingers Callum McManaman and Will Buckley both qualify for Ireland but Westwood is the only current international.
Irish players: Wes Hoolahan
Following Robbie Brady’s transfer to Burnley, the Canaries are bare on Irishmen. Wes Hoolahan is a key man for both club and country and will hope to propel his side to an immediate Premier league return.
Young midfielder James Maddison qualifies through the ‘granny rule’ but the sought after Murphy twins (Jacob and Josh) are not eligible despite reported interest from Martin O’Neill.
Irish players: Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, Alex Pearce
Derby have been home to many Irishmen in recent years, with Jeff Hendrick probably the most high profile, before he departed for Burnley. Cyrus Christie is Seamus Coleman’s understudy at international level and is making a steady comeback from injury.
Richard Keogh is Derby’s captain and has impressed for Ireland. Alex Pearce has finally established himself as a starter and will hope a push for promotion can further his international prospects.
Irish players: Aidan White
After star man Conor Hourihane’s departure to Aston Villa, Aidan White is the only Irishman at Oakwell.
The former Leeds man helped the Tykes to promotion to League One and they could be looking at consecutive rises up the divisions.
Irish players: Sean Kavanagh
The Cottagers will be hoping for their first return the Premier League since 2014. They are in a good position to do so but Sean Kavanagh is the only Irishman in their ranks and he is currently on loan to Hartlepool.
Richard Stearman qualifies for the Boys in Green but is also out on loan at his hometown club, Wolves.
Preston North End
Irish players: Andy Boyle, Alan Browne, Greg Cunningham, Eoin Doyle, Daryl Horgan, Aiden McGeady
The huge Irish contingent makes Preston the new Sunderland. Currently seven points off the playoffs, a Preston promotion would be the best possible outcome for Ireland. Aiden McGeady has quietly rediscovered his form, while the Irish player of the last 18 months, Daryl Horgan, making an immediate impact.
Alan Browne and Greg Cunningham will hope to push for Ireland places while Andy Boyle will be striving to make the breakthrough also. Eoin Doyle is currently on loan at Portsmouth.
Irish players: Stephen Gleeson, Corey O’Keeffe
Birmingham have lost some momentum having occupied the playoff places early in the season. Stephen Gleeson has made Irish provisional squads in the past and is the cousin of Ireland regular Glenn Whelan.
Corey O’Keeffe is one of the club’s highest rated young players, with Irish eligible Lukas Jutkiewicz the Blues top scorer this season after impressing since his move from Burnley.
Irish players: Alan Judge, Alan McCormack, John Egan, Sam Field, Jack Bonham
Brentford could still make a late surge for the playoffs and have a large number of Irishmen on their books. Judge was one of the Championship’s best players last season and will hope for a strong comeback after nearly a year out.
Alan McCormack is an experienced head while John Egan will be hoping to claim an Ireland spot after an impressive season so far. Youngster Sam Field has made an impressive breakthrough this season and Jack Bonham came close to promotion with Watford in 2013.
Irish players: Conor Houihane
Although 13 points off the playoffs, Steve Bruce’s side recruited heavily in January and will hope to push for the Premier League under the experienced coach. Conor Hourihane was part of their spending spree and has been one of the league’s standout players this season.
Scott Hogan and Mark Bunn are both Irish-qualified, with a certain ex-Ireland youth international also on the books at Villa.
Dream scenario: Newcastle, Reading, Preston (13 Irishmen)
Realistic scenario: Newcastle, Reading, Derby (ten Irishmen)
Worst scenario: Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley (three Irishmen)
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena