The new English Football League Championship season will begin on Friday evening, as newly promoted Luton Town host Robbie Keane’s Middlesbrough at Kenilworth Road.
The upcoming campaign promises to be one filled with intrigue as a host of teams do battle with the hope of finding their way to the holy grail of the Premier League.
There will also be plenty of interest from an Irish perspective with a myriad of current and, potentially, future Boys in Green in action around the league.
But who in particular is worth keeping an eye on?
Here are five Irish players to watch ahead of the start of the Championship season.
1) Alan Browne
Last season, Alan Browne was one of the Championships’s finest midfielders and he has become one of Preston’s most influential players.
Still just 24, the Cork man scored 12 goals and notched six assists from midfield in what was unquestionably the best campaign of his career as he continues to improve year on year.
This season, Browne has already outlined that he wants to continue finding the net with frequency and given the departure of Callum Robinson, North End will have to supplement the now Sheffield United man’s goals in some way.
If Preston are to finally kick on and make a real playoff push this season, then another tremendous campaign for Browne will be paramount.
2) Daniel Crowley
Crowley returned to England this summer after rebuilding his career in Holland with a very succesful spell at Willem II which saw him help his side to the Dutch Cup final last year, scoring six goals and creating 11 in an impressive campaign.
Still only 21, the former Arsenal prospect was snapped up by Birmingham City and could end up being a real coup for Pep Clotet’s side who will surely benefit from his creativity and attacking flair.
The midfielder has outlined previously that Ireland is the country he wishes to represent at international level and although he failed to impress Mick McCarthy in the Dutch Cup final, St Andrews could end up being the perfect place for him to showcase his talents.
Much more mature both on and off the field than when he left England two years ago, Crowley is without question a player to watch in the Championship this season.
3) Dara O’Shea
One of Ireland’s most talented up and coming defenders, 19-year old centre-back Dara O’Shea is on the verge of a breakthrough at West Brom.
O’Shea spent last season on-loan at Exeter City in League One and handled himself well against the challenge of the English lower leagues working his way into the starting XI at St James Park and eventually into Stephen Kenny’s U21 squad.
The young centre-back is a no-nonsense, hard-working defender and has featured frequently in pre-season for the Baggies with Slaven Bilic said to be a big fan of the Irishman.
It’s rare to find a 19-year old as a first choice centre-half at a club towards the top of the Championship but O’Shea has all the qualities needed, even at a young age, to fill the role perfectly for the Baggies should they choose to go with him.
He faces competition from the likes of Semi Ayaji and Kyle Bartley, but it could end up being a breakthrough season at the Hawthorns for O’Shea.
4) Josh Barrett
Irish U21 international Josh Barrett is a player who has somewhat flown under the radar over the last 12 months.
The 21-year old spent some time on loan at Aldershot from Reading before returning to the Madjeski Stadium and making the squad for the Royals’ last five games of the season – earning a start on the final day.
Having featured for Ireland in Toulon the left-winger played a large part in Reading’s pre-season plans, scoring twice in recent games, including a composed finish against Chelsea.
Barrett was handed his chance last season by Royals’ boss Jose Gomes and given his development, especially over the summer months, the U21s star is in contention to have a real breakout season in the Championship.
5) James Collins
The top scorer in last season’s League One, Luton Town’s James Collins has been prolific in the lower levels of English football for a number of years, but this will be the first campaign where he will get the chance to test himself in the second tier.
Collins’ 25 league goals fired Luton to promotion and it will be intriguing to see if he can carry his form up a level and help the Hatters survive in the Championship.
The gap between the third and the second tier has been bridged substantially by the likes of Rickie Lambert and Grant Holt over the years and at 28, Collins is in his prime and keen to impress.
The striker was included in the Irish squad in March but failed to win his first cap, should he find the net frequently at this level, a debut for the Boys in Green won’t be far off.