Martin O’Neill took the somewhat brave step of naming three uncapped strikers in his provisional 32-man squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Wales.
As well as a recall for Preston North End forward Sean Maguire (who by now has surely done enough to merit inclusion in the final squad for the two matches), there were also places on the panel for Aston Villa’s Scott Hogan and the somewhat surprising choice of Aiden O’Brien of Millwall.
Maguire, by now, we will all be familiar with given his goalscoring exploits not just with Preston but with Cork City in the League of Ireland Premier Divison in the previous 18 months, but who are the other two new striking options and how will they fit into O’Neill’s plans?
Scott Hogan (Aston Villa)
Previous Clubs: Rochdale, Woodley Sports, Halifax Town, Mossley (loan), Stockbridge Park Steels, Ashton United, Hyde, Rochdale, Brentford
Career Apps (Goals): 189 (83)
For a player that only really sprung to life in the Championship 18 months ago, Hogan has done remarkably well for himself. From the depths of non-league to the heights of international football in just four short years is a phenomenal success story.
Plucked from League Two by Championship side Brentford in 2014, Hogan’s progress was significantly disrupted through injury. When he was finally given a chance with the Bees, however, he took it with both hands – and a run of 7 goals in 7 games at the end of the 2015/16 season laid the groundwork for what was to follow.
A return of 14 goals in 25 games the following season saw Aston Villa fork out what could end up being around £15m to sign him, and although things haven’t quite gone to plan for him at Villa Park, O’Neill has remained a fan.
Indeed, the manager’s pursuit of the English-born striker has been going on for some time, and finally came to a successful conclusion in May when Hogan declared his allegiance to the Boys in Green. O’Neill has already been talking his new striker up, along with Maguire, as the clinical striker that Ireland have been missing since Robbie Keane’s departure from the international fold.
MON “It would be nice if we have a natural goal scorer in Hogan and Maguire for the future of Ireland.”
— Andrew Horgan (@AndrewHorgan) September 26, 2017
An interesting type of striker, one of Hogan’s best qualities is his movement off the ball and creating space for others (not unlike his new international teammate Maguire). He also possesses strong poaching instincts and would appear to be equally as good at finishing on either foot.
Time will tell if he is able to carve out an international career (and his injuries could be a problem), but he definitely has the skillset to thrive in the national team.
Aiden O’Brien (Millwall)
Previous Clubs: Staines Town (loan), Hates & Yeading United (loan), Crawley Town (loan), Aldershot Town (loan), Torquay United (loan)
Career Apps (Goals): 168 (39)
While Maguire and Hogan’s call-ups were expected by many, the inclusion of Millwall’s Aiden O’Brien caught plenty by surprise – though O’Neill says that the 23-year-old is a player that he has been looking at for some time.
Having come through the Millwall academy and gone on loan to a number of non-league and lower-league clubs, O’Brien finally got his chance to impress in the 2014/15 season. He scored twice in 19 games in that year as the Lions were relegated, but manager Neil Harris had seen enough from him to give him even more match time in League One.
The forward played in almost every match in Millwall’s two-year spell in English football’s third tier, scoring 23 goals in 86 games and had a big role in their promotion last season. He has scored twice in seven games so far in his return to the Championship, and his pace and versatility across the forward line could make him an extremely useful asset for Ireland, either in the immediate future or looking ahead to their Euro 2020 campaign.
While (like Hogan) O’Brien was born in England, he is no stranger to the green jersey. He made his debut for the Ireland under-17 side in 2009 (going on to score three goals in five games), before going on to represent the national team at under-19 and under-21 level; indeed, his record of five goals with the latter is only two behind Robbie Brady’s record seven.
With the old order of Ireland strikers all over the age of 30, injecting some youth into proceedings was vital. With Hogan, O’Brien and Sean Maguire all now in contention for places, the future is looking bright once again for the Boys in Green.