With Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland pushing hard for a place in next year’s World Cup in Russia, it is a critical time for Irish players plying their trade in England.
A sizeable number of the Irish squad are in the Premier League (and not all at Burnley either), but being a top-level footballer and playing regularly in the Premier League can be two very different things.
Some of these players are key members of their respective first team squads, but others, while surplus to requirements, could well benefit for a move to secure more regular starting time.
Shane Long (Southampton)
The statistics will show that Long has made 31 appearances for Southampton, but only nine of them have come from the start. The 30-year-old is behind Manolo Gabbiadini (and Charlie Austin when he returns from injury) in the pecking order, and his attempts to prove manager Claude Puel in that regard have yielded just three league goals this season (his last coming almost three months ago).
West Ham have been linked with a move for Ireland’s number nine, and it looks for all the world that a transfer in the summer could be the shot in the arm that his career in England needs.
James McCarthy (Everton)
Still a very talented midfielder that would improve most squads in the division, nonetheless it seems that McCarthy’s willingness to join up with the Ireland squad despite his injury problems has tested Ronald Koeman’s patience once too often. The Toffees manager has entered into a war of words with Martin O’Neill on multiple occasion over the 26-year-old, and must be near the point where he decides enough is enough.
With just seven starts in the league this season, McCarthy is definitely fighting a battle to convince Koeman that he can be relied upon.
James McClean (West Bromwich Albion)
McClean has emerged as a key player in Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign, but this is not a sentiment shared by West Brom manager Tony Pulis. The former Derry City winger has struggled to dislodge Matt Phillips from that left midfield role, and 19 of his 31 Premier League appearances this season have come from the bench.
McClean has completed 90 minutes for his club just once since October, and he arguably has just two more matches this season to convince Pulis that he can be more than just a squad option.
Darren Randolph (West Ham United)
Having worked hard to establish himself as West Ham’s number one earlier this season, Randolph seems to have lost the trust of manager Slaven Bilic at just the wrong time.
The 30-year-old hasn’t featured in the league since last month’s 2-2 draw at Sunderland, and while Adrian’s unreliability has left the door open for Randolph to win his place back, the opening of the transfer window at the end of the season could present new problems if Bilic decides he’s in the market for a new goalkeeper.
Richie Towell (Brighton & Hove Albion)
(Not technically a Premier League player yet, admittedly, but he will be soon enough (in name at least))
Brighton manager Chris Hughton has regularly talked Towell up in the media, but actions speak louder than words, and Hughton’s actions towards the former Dundalk midfielder are of a player that is surplus to requirements at the Amex.
The 25-year-old has played for a grand total of six minutes in the Championship this season, and Brighton’s squad strengthening this summer as they prepare for Premier League football will push Towell even further down the pecking order. His chances of playing in the top tier next season are almost non-existent, but he could yet still find another club in the Championship.
On the latest episode of the Mixer Irish Football Podcast, we chat to Cork City’s Conor McCormack as well as the usual review of all of the latest League of Ireland action.