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Looking At The Steady Decline In Number Of Irish Players In The Premier League

There has been a steady decline in the number of Irish players playing in the Premier League the past few seasons, with the lowest number ever recorded last season.

Only nineteen Irish players played in the top flight of English football during 2016/17. Of those, four made five or less appearances. One player, Declan Rice of West Ham United, played just one minute of one game.

Just three of the nineteen appeared for clubs in the top eight, and Rice was the only player under the age of twenty-five. Looking at the full list makes for poor reading in regards the future of top flight Irish players.

 

Player

Team

Appearances

Stephen Ward

Burnley

37

Harry Arter

Bournemouth

35

James McClean

WBA

34

Jeff Hendrick

Burnley

32

Shane Long

Southampton

32

Damien Delaney

Crystal Palace

30

Glenn Whelan

Stoke City

30

John O’Shea

Sunderland

28

Seamus Coleman

Everton

26

Jon Walters

Stoke City

23

Darren Randolph

West Ham Utd

22

David Meyler

Hull City

20

Robbie Brady

Burnley

14

Darron Gibson

Sunderland

12

James McCarthy

Everton

12

Shay Given

Stoke City

5

Marc Wilson

WBA

4

Kevin Long

Burnley

3

Declan Rice

West Ham Utd

1

Three were relegated to the Championship, Stoke City have released Shay Given, and six are over the age of thirty. That will rise to seven in August. Of those, Damien Delaney has secured a contract extension at Crystal Palace but will be a bit-part player. Also, Glenn Whelan will find his place at Stoke under threat with the arrival of Darren Fletcher.

So, that’s four definitely out of the Premier League and a few hanging on by a thread.

The number could possibly rise next season, with six Irish players at newly promoted clubs. However, only two of those, Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy, are likely to be regulars. Rob Elliot was the third-choice goalkeeper at Newcastle United whilst Daryl Murphy will likely make way for new signings. Richie Towell only played three times for Brighton & Hove Albion, and Sean Scannell has had a career blighted by injury.

With that in mind, the 2017/18 season could see another record set for lowest number of Irish players in the Premier League.

A Steady Decline in Numbers

Unfortunately, the decline in numbers has happened gradually over the past few years.

The first Premier League season, in 1992/93, saw legends like Paul McGrath, Andy Townsend, Niall Quinn, and Denis Irwin among the 27 Irish players in the top flight.

Between that opening season and the 2012/13 campaign, the total number of Irish players in the Premier League averaged 29.6 per season. The highest number in a single season is thirty-six, which has happened in three separate seasons.

However, since the 2012/13 season, two seasons have seen twenty-five Irish players in the Premier League and the 2015/16 season had just twenty-one. That was the lowest number since only twenty appeared during the 1994/95 campaign.

Then, the 2016/17 season saw numbers drop to below twenty for the first time ever.

This is a problem which could definitely impact the national team. Age is a worry, with fifteen of the current squad over the age of twenty-eight. Just eight are aged twenty-five or under. Also, talented players are not getting the chance to play against the worlds best every week.

Not Given a Chance

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, Oriel Park, Dundalk 2/6/2017 Dundalk vs Cork City Cork City's Sean Maguire celebrates scoring their second goal

The biggest problem is Irish players with great potential and talent are being overlooked. They don’t get a chance at the top level and must drop down the divisions.

Sean Maguire is the perfect example of a talented Irish player not getting a chance at the highest level. After finishing League of Ireland top scorer for Waterford United, he joined West Ham aged eighteen.

However, he spent two years with the London club without making an appearance for them. After loan spells with Sligo Rovers and Accrington Stanley, and a brief spell at Dundalk, he joined Cork City. He has again shown his undoubted ability and scored sixteen goals in eighteen games in 2017.

Now, he will return to English football with Championship mid-table side Preston North End.

It’s a big move for Maguire. He’s even young enough to be given another chance at the highest level someday. However, surely he could do a job at a bottom-half Premier League club if given the chance.

It seems the only way for Irish players to play in the Premier League, with a few exceptions, is to join a lower division team and win promotion.

If numbers continue to fall, it could have a huge impact on the future of the national team.

*All statistics were found on the official Premier League website*

Peter Reynolds, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

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