With Ireland having missed out on World Cup qualification, the future of Irish football has once again come under scrutiny.
Long-serving players such as Wes Hoolahan, Glenn Whelan, John O’Shea and Daryl Murphy are all at the tail-ends of their careers and could well have retired from the national side by the time the Euro 2020 qualifiers roll around. This, of course, means that suitable replacements must be found.
The wildly-successful computer game series Football Manager has generally been a good judge of potential, to the point where clubs such as Everton were actively utilising the game’s database as part of their scouting network.
Delving into said database for their 2018 edition, here are the players whom they have ranked as the ten biggest Irish prospects (under the age of 22) in football today.
Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City)
Age: 22 Pos: Midfield Current Ability: 115 Potential Ability: 128 (range of 120-150)
Already an established member of the Ireland national squad, big things are expected of O’Dowda in the next qualification campaign. With so
Alan Browne (Preston North End).
Age: 22 Pos: Midfield Current Ability: 119 (/200) Potential Ability: 135
The Preston midfielder made his international debut earlier this summer, and although he has yet to cement a role in the squad since then in what is hotly-contested position, if he continues to impress in the Championship then further international caps will come.
Eoghan O’Connell (Bury).
Age: 21 Pos: Defence Current Ability: 108 Potential Ability: 135
Despite making a handful of senior appearances for Celtic, O’Connell never truly broke through as much as he would have liked and moved to Bury earlier this summer. At 21, however, he still has time on his side to forge a career in the upper leagues in England and make a significant stamp on the international scene.
Ryan Manning (Queen’s Park Rangers).
Age: 21 Pos: Midfield Current Ability: 110 Potential Ability: 136
The QPR midfielder burst onto the scene last season, making his debut midway through the campaign and solidifying his spot in the squad with a number of eye-catching displays. The former Galway United man has found first team football harder to come by this season, but his call-ups for the Ireland U21 side shows that he is on the right path at international level.
Niall Keown (Partick Thistle)
Age: 18 Pos: Defence Current Ability: 104 Potential Ability: 125 (range of 120-150)
With Arsenal legend Martin Keown as his father, Niall already had a decent education in the art of being a defender. He moved to Partick Thistle in Scotland last summer, and will be hoping to add to his handful of Ireland U21 caps before eventually making the step-up to the senior team.
Connor Ronan (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Age: 19 Pos: Midfield Current Ability: 105 (/200) Potential Ability: 140
Ronan went viral recently after a Carabao Cup performance against Manchester City was so impressive that Kevin De Bruyne insisted on swapping shirts with the U21 international. Outside of the EFL Cup, all of Ronan’s Championship appearances thus far have been from the bench and generally in the last 10-15 minutes of games as manager Nuno Espirito Santo eases him into the first team picture.
Liam Kelly (Reading)
Age: 21 Pos: Midfield Current Ability: 122 Potential Ability: 144
Another technically gifted young Irish player in the Championship, Kelly has been earning rave reviews to whoever will listen from Reading manager Jaap Stam. Kelly was named in the 39-man squad for the double-header against Wales and Iceland in March (though he failed to make the final cut) and if he keeps showing the sort of promise he has since breaking into the first team picture at the Madejski, he is almost certain to be there or thereabouts for th Euro 2020 campaign.
Ryan Delaney (Burton Albion)
Age: 21 Pos: Defence Current Ability: 86 Potential Ability: 124 (range of 120-150)
The Ireland U21 international (and interviewee on this week’s Mixer podcast, hint hint) has just returned to England after a dream season with Cork City. The former Wexford defender is now looking to break into the first team picture at the Championship club, which will do his international chances no harm at all.
Lee O’Connor (Manchester United)
Age: 17 Pos: Defence Current Ability: 72 Potential Ability: -75 (range of 120-150)
Sharing a county and first club with Irish legend John O’Shea is always a good start, and the Man United website describes O’Connor as “one of the hottest Irish properties in his age group.” Despite his young age, the defender has been included in Man United’s U23 squad for their Premier League 2 campaign, and has even played for the club in the UEFA Youth League. He made his debut for the Ireland U19 side in September of this year.
Glen McAuley (Liverpool)
Age: 17 Pos: Defence Current Ability: 71 Potential Ability: -75 (range of 120-150)
Despite the dearth of Irish players in Liverpool’s senior team these days, they do have a strong (and highly-rated) Irish contingent in their youth ranks. Former Reds U18 manager Neil Critchley (now with the U23s) described Dublin native Glen McAuley as an ‘old-fashioned centre-forward ‘ and a strong 16-goal debut season for the U18 side last season enhanced that reputation. At international level, McAuley has played a handful of games for the Irish U17 side.
Conor Masterson (Liverpool)
Age: 17 Pos: Defence Current Ability: 77 Potential Ability: -75 (range of 120-150)
Another promising Irish youngster on Liverpool’s books, Masterson has even been on the fringes of the first team in the past year or so, going on the senior side’s Spanish training camp last season as well as being named in Jurgen Klopp’s provisional Champions League squad earlier in this campaign.
Jayson Molumby (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Age: 18 Pos: Midfield Current Ability: 90 Potential Ability: -75 (range of 120-150)
The 18-year-old Waterford has already made his senior debut for Brighton, being name in Chris Hughton’s squads for their early Carabao Cup clashes. Hughton’s comments afterwards suggested that Molumby has a bright future at the club, though the Ireland U19 is yet to make his Premier League debut.
Harry Charsley (Everton)
Age: 21 Pos: Midfield Current Ability: 96 Potential Ability: -75 (range of 120-150)
Charsley has been making significant progress in the Everton youth setup in the last few years, playing a huge role in the U23 side’s Premier League 2 success last season. He is yet to make a senior appearance for the Toffees, though he has impressed in Ireland U21’s Euro 2019 qualifiers so far this season.
Declan Rice (West Ham)
Age: 18 Pos: Defence/Midfield Current Ability: 111 Potential Ability: -75 (range of 120-150)
The 18-year-old broke into the first team at West Ham at the tail-end of last season, and looked set to play a big role this year, but the Hammers’ relegation struggle has limited his game time. That said, his reputation as one of Ireland’s brightest prospects is still intact.
Jake Doyle-Hayes (Aston Villa)
Age: 18 Pos: Midfield Current Ability: 93 Potential Ability: -75 (range of 130-160)
Like some of the other players on this list, Doyle-Hayes has plated senior football for his club this season, but it has been limited to the Carabao Cup. Doyle-Hayes has been inching closer to making his first Championship appearances for Aston Villa, and his international progression has put him on the verge of an Ireland U21 appearance.
On this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish Football Podcast, we’re joined by Burton Albion defender Ryan Delaney to look back on a double-winning season with Cork City, and discuss our Premier Division Team of the Year as voted by you.