League of Ireland players often cross the Irish Sea to ply their trade in England with varying degrees of success. However, a number of players have made the opposite transition, leaving England for our beloved League of Ireland.
This season, to much fanfare and acclaim, has seen the return to Ireland of Keith Fahey and Stephen Mc Phail- two players who have had distinguished careers in England. Both are now integral parts of the midfield of their respective teams and will be important leaders on and off the field towards the end of this season and beyond.
But how successful is the transition from playing in the English leagues to lining out in the League of Ireland? Pundit Arena’s Tom O’Connor takes a look at a few blasts from the past, some current LOI stars and tries to predict what current players may transfer to the LOI.
When Monaghan United signed Keith Foy from Nottingham Forest in the late 90’s this author thought his dreams had come true – his beloved Leeds United were never going to let dead ball specialist Ian Harte sign for the Mons but now they had the next best thing. Foy was a member of Brian Kerr’s European Championship winning team, was at a Premiership club (at the time) and was carving out a reputation as a set piece wizard.
Sadly, apart from a few glimpses of free kick magic, it never really happened for Foy at Monaghan and the author’s dreams were shattered. Other players from that successful Kerr era have achieved various degrees of success- Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and Damien Duff carved out stellar club and international careers, Jonathan Douglas captained Leeds in a Play Off Final and led Brentford to promotion last season, Liam George has hovered around the lower leagues in England- while Alex O’ Reilly had a spell at Longford Town after spending time with West Ham.
This author’s mistake was being born in the northern part of Ireland, had he been born in Munster, his chances of seeing a returning Irishman really capture the imagination of the fans would have been greatly increased. Cork City have made a real success from former English and Scottish league players- George O’ Callaghan, Joe Gamble and Colin Healy played crucial roles in their outstanding run of success under Damien Richardson.
Indeed, Healy is still playing a critical role in City’s title challenge where he has now been joined by the returning John O’ Flynn. Cork also have John Dunleavy, Gearoid Morrissey and Darren Dennehy who returned from Barnet, Blackburn and Wolves respectively in the last few years and will hope to be mainstays of John Caulfield’s drive for honours.
So, while City have a proud record of developing players who are spotted by English clubs – Alan Bennett, Kevin Doyle, Kevin Long, Shane Long and most recently Brian Lenihan are the most prominent examples- they have form in bringing players back both from England and beyond- Liam Kearney being a prime example so taking Liam Miller back from Australia could happen.
Many clubs this year have recruited Irish players with careers of varying success at British clubs – Derry City’s Cliff Byrne played over 300 games in spells at both Oldham and Scunthorpe in Leagues One and Two, Shamrock Rovers’ Patrick Cregg clocked up almost 200 appearances- mainly in the Scottish top division, and Dundalk’s Donal Mc Dermott made 64 appearances at the same levels as Byrne- mostly for Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town.
Eoin Wearen joined Bohemians having played four times for Dagenham and Redbridge and Sligo have recruited Sean Maguire on loan from West Ham having yet to make an appearance for their senior team. These new arrivals in the league join the likes of Seamus Conneely, Ryan Connolly, Kurtis Byrne and Shane Redmond as those who have joined LOI clubs in the past few years following spells in the UK.
All will be hoping to make their mark in Ireland and prove their decision to return to these shores was worth it- for both themselves and their clubs. However is there a formula to increase their chances of success? This author thinks so.
In recent years, the most profitable signings from League of Ireland clubs have involved ex Cork City players with both Shane Long and Kevin Doyle making waves in the Premier League, most recently in the current transfer window. Three of the most notable players to play in the LOI after playing in England – ex Cork and Dundalk midfield schemer George O’Callaghan, Bohs and former Shels netminder Dean Delaney and ex Dundalk and Bohemians legend Liam Burns all played at Port Vale together before crossing the Irish Sea and going their separate ways to LOI success.
So the secret, if you want to be adored as an LOI legend following a spell in England is to play a few games for Cork City, make sure you end up at Port Vale for a few years and Bingo!
Port Vale have currently no Republic of Ireland players on their first team books but Northern Ireland internationals Ryan Mc Givern and Michael O’Connor have recently been added to their ranks so in a few years time will we be looking at two new LOI recruits? Only time will tell!
Tom O’Connor, Pundit Arena.