On Saturday, Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium will play host to Sheffield United’s first Premier League game for nearly 12 years.
After over of a decade of hovering between the second and third tiers of English football The Blades finally returned to where so many of their fans believe they belong after achieving promotion from the Championship in stylish fashion last year.
Under manager Chris Wilder, they built a durable, experienced and inexpensive side, whose innovative system of 3-5-2 with overlapping full-backs and hard working strikers led to them pipping rivals Leeds United to the final automatic promotion spot in just their second season back in the Championship.
Key to their success last season was the trio of Irish internationals, John Egan, Enda Stevens and David McGoldrick, all of whom have become almost indispensable at Bramall Lane over the past year and a half.
Add to that the signing of striker Callum Robinson from Preston and the Blades now have a core Irish quartet and if Sheffield United are to defy the odds and stay in the Premier League, all four will be crucial to their survival bid.
Sheffield United had the joint best defence in the Championship last season conceding just 41 goals in 46 games, which was thanks in no small part to the contribution of John Egan at the heart of the defence.
Signed last summer from Brentford for £4 million, Egan’s price-tag was the club’s record transfer fee at the time and his arrival came with an understandable level of expectation from Blades fans.
But in his 44 appearances last season the Cork man was immense and formed a rock-solid trio alongside Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell as Wilder’s men achieved promotion.
Sheffield United are many people’s favourites to make an immediate return to the Championship and Wilder will be well aware that his side may find themselves on the back foot during games more often than not.
Egan will be one The Blades’ busiest players and despite the new challenge of elite level movement from top flight strikers, former Ireland defender Gary Breen told Pundit Arena that having improved year on year, the 26-year old will impress in the Premier League.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing John Egan in the Premier League this season and seeing how he copes. I saw a lot of him at Gillingham in League One.
“He’s come back from that horrible injury as a young player, he gets in the League One Team of the Year, gets his move to Brentford, excels again, moves to Sheffield United and does brilliantly. I really want him to do well and I believe he will.”
“What will be his biggest test will be coming against centre-forward movement that he’s never seen before, it’ll be down to how he can cope with that, but I’m looking forward to watching him.”
Like Egan, Enda Stevens is another player who had to work his way up the divisions before finally getting a proper crack at Premier League football.
Stevens was one of Wilder’s first signings when he came to the club and has consistently been excellent as his recent rise up the English football ladder coincided with The Blades’.
Operating as the left-wing back at Bramall Lane, Stevens’ energy on his side is crucial to Sheffield United’s shape with the former Rovers man adding goals to his game towards the latter part of last season – four in his last six games as they pushed for promotion.
The 29-year old’s deliveries from the left were also a huge asset during the last campaign as he picked up seven assists, something new arrivals like Oliver McBurnie and Callum Robinson will thrive off.
“Enda Stevens will be organised in the Premier League under Chris Wilder,” said Breen speaking about the Irish left-back.
“If you think about how well he’s done for Ireland he’s done great. Mick McCarthy has invested in him there’s no doubt and he’ll get better for both Ireland and Sheffield United.”
The final Irish man who had a huge part to play in their promotion last season is striker David McGoldrick.
Signed on a free after being released by Ipswich Town, McGoldrick proved to be a revelation in Wilder’s system scoring 15 goals and winning the club’s Player of the Year award.
McGoldrick is 31 now and has never played at the highest level but he has more than earned his chance to impress during his time at Bramall Lane.
Sheffield United have spent big on attacking players bringing the likes of Callum Robinson, Lys Mousset and Oli McBurnie in during the summer but despite this, McGoldrick’s leadership qualities and intelligence should still see him get his fair share of game time in the Premier League.
“David was positive. He’s been amazing for us. He’s experienced at international level and he’s been a calming influence in the group.
“There’s not an unbelievable amount of Championship football experience, let alone top end, in there. So he’s stepped in. He’s stepped in with the skipper being out and played a huge part with the players. He’s been outstanding.”
The new kid in town, Callum Robinson has already shown that he could be one of Sheffield United’s most important attacking players on their Premier League return.
Signed from Preston, Robinson was excellent last season scoring 12 goals despite missing 19 games of the campaign with a hamstring injury.
Robinson has been on fire in pre-season and looks as though he has settled into the Blades system seamlessly which will be a huge bonus for Wilder.
The 24-year old’s pace and direct style of play also brings something entirely different to the United attack and is likely to cause a lot of problems for top flight defenders.
It’s unlikely that Sheffield United will create a tonne of chances in the Premier League but Robinson could act as a serious asset both as an outlet ball and on the counter attack.
Former Irish defender Richard Dunne believes that Robinson’s goals in pre-season will help his confidence but that he must also be clinical when he gets his chance in front of goal.
“I hope he does well,” Dunne told Pundit Arena.
“He’s already scored a few goals in pre-season and that’s always the thing when someone signs for a new club, how they settle in. I think his goals already will help that.
“The problem he’s going to have at Sheffield United is how many chances they get.
“They won’t be dominating teams, they’ll be trying to hit teams on the break I think and it’s about whether he can make the right decisions at the right times, but I think he’ll be vital to Sheffield United’s start to the season”
The challenge to stay in the top flight will be a difficult one for Sheffield United but under Chris Wilder they have continually exceeded expectations.
If they are to do it this season, then their Irish core will have a huge part to play.