While there’s been a worrying lack of homegrown talent making the breakthrough at club level in recent times, there’s certainly no shortage of potential within the Irish ranks.
And to celebrate Jack Byrne’s 20th birthday this week, Pundit Arena takes a look at another three Irish wonderkids to keep a very close eye on over the next few years.
Emmanuel Osadebe – Gillingham (Age: 19)
Osadebe has burst onto the scene this season with League One play-off chasers Gillingham, having previously played youth football with Dundalk before spending some time at Tottenham Hotspur as part of their Foundation college programme.
In this, his first season of professional football, Osadebe has featured over 20 times for The Gills, scoring three goals, including a wonder solo effort against Bury back in November (see below) which went viral after being voted Goal of the Day on Sky Sports News.
After yet another dismal European Under-21 Championship campaign for the Republic of Ireland, it seems farcical that players like Osadebe, who is also eligible for Nigeria through his parents, are continuously overlooked but players with zero first-team experience remain in the squad.
Jamie McGrath – St Patrick’s Athletic (Age: 19)
Another promising talent closer to home is Jamie McGrath of St Patrick’s Athletic – a club which has in the past provided players such as Paul McGrath, Keith Fahey and Chris Forrester with a platform in which to hone their skills before moving to England.
The likes of Forrester and Wes Hoolahan will be of particular inspiration to McGrath as they share many similar traits. Asides from making their names in the League of Ireland, which unfortunately remains a selling league, they have also been dubbed as street footballers, a dying breed in the modern game.
Since making his St Pat’s debut at the tail end of 2014, McGrath has won five U19 caps and made over 25 SSE Airtricity League appearances in what is a competitive midfield, providing the Inchicore faithful with some quite exhilarating moments already.
Against champions Dundalk…
And in the Europa League versus Skonto Riga…
Kevin Toner – Aston Villa (Age: 19)
One would think Aston Villa’s wretched season should provide a toxic environment for a young player, the sort of environment that could either shape their career or break it. Kevin Toner, from Ashbourne in County Meath, showed no signs of the latter when making his Premier League debut at the weekend.
Toner came on as a half-time substitute at a hostile Villa Park, but the defender earned nothing but rave reviews from the Villa fans, who praised him for his endeavour, something Villa has lacked all season and is ultimately the reason they’ve been relegated with four games to spare.
With that in mind, and a mass exodus of playing staff expected, Toner could find opportunities more frequent in the Championship next term and if his debut is anything to go by, he could add to the long list of Villa players who also represented the Republic of Ireland in no time.
And just in case you doubted his combativeness, this actually happened in a reserve match…
Who do you think is Ireland’s brightest prospect? Do you agree with the selections in this article? Join the discussion by commenting via our Facebook page.