Four Championship clubs play the most crucial games in their history over the next few weeks with the victors being rewarded with a place in the Premier League and the promise of the many financial rewards it brings. Every game the Republic of Ireland play, supporters tend to justify the inclusion of certain players by claiming that they play regularly in the Premier League. Here Tom O’Connor takes a look at the four clubs in contention for promotion and asks who could be knocking on the door for the international squad in the months ahead.
Throughout the past thirty years several Irish footballers have played at Ayresome Park and the Riverside- the 1980s saw Bernie Slaven occupy the Irish thoughts while the 1990s saw Alan Kernaghan, Chris Morris, Curtis Fleming, Graham Kavanagh, Andy Townsend and Keith O’Neill receive international accolades during their spell in the North East.
Other Irish players at the club in the 1990s and 2000s, however not capped at senior level, included Jason Gavin, Willo Flood, Alan Moore, Ronnie O’Brien, Mark Yeates and Mickey Cummins. While recently, both Sean St Ledger and Shay Given have had short spells at the Riverside, at the present moment, if Boro were to get promoted the only player to command the attention of O’Neill would be their on loan forward Patrick Bamford. The prolific striker has yet to declare his international loyalty at senior level but if he decides to commit to the Republic he could be a potential successor to Robbie Keane up front.
Some players of Irish interest who played with the London club include ex Ireland goalkeeper Gerry Peyton who spent a short time on loan with the Griffin Park club in 1992 while midfielders Martin Rowlands (1998-2003) and Stephen Hunt (2001-05) and defender Alan Bennett (2008-10) played for The Bees in more recent times. While Brentford do have an Irish club legend, in the shape of right sided utility player Kevin O Connor.
If Mark Warburton’s troops scale the heights of promotion this season Irish scouts will have eyes on two ex Blackburn Rovers players. Alan Judge is a left footed assist wizard who could provide an extra spark on the left of midfield while their club captain is tenacious centre midfielder Jonathan Douglas who brings a wealth of experience and know how to his club. If they were to get promoted would it be too late in his career to be recalled to the squad or would it be a deserved reward?
Around a decade ago the Canaries had Gary ‘The Ginger Pele’ Doherty (2004-10) in their ranks, while before that Curtis Fleming (1991-2001) played for The Canaries. Since then interest has been sporadic with strikers Stephen Elliott, Neale Fenn and Alan Lee along with midfielder David Bell only making 43 Canaries appearances between them- all on loan with the exception of Bell’s 19 in the 2008/9 season.
Former Norwich City winger and Irish international Anthony Pilkington added 75 appearances to the list before departing for Cardiff leaving the most high profile Irish player at the club to be one Wes Hoolahan. The former Tolka Park wizard has long divided opinion among managers and supporters. However this season he has had a good club season and showed well when representing his country, surely promotion would silence the doubters and reinforce the belief that he’s a key player?
Before the appointment of Martin O Neill, Mick Mc Carthy was spoken of as a possible replacement for Giovanni Trappatoni and, while nothing came to fruition at that stage, who’s to say what promotion to the Premier League followed by a poor European Qualifying campaign for the Republic of Ireland might mean?
With regards to his Irish players, there are many who would greatly benefit from Premier League exposure- diminutive midfielder Jay Tabb is a bundle of energy and could be a surprise inclusion if he holds his own in the top division while the Hunt brothers (Stephen and Noel) bring something different to the squad with a mix of energy, enthusiasm and experience. Both are seeking to put things right on the field- Stephen wrote passionately about his exclusion from a Euro 2012 starting place and is certainly looking to get back in the squad while Noel is desperate to get a decent scoring run together following an unfortunate run of injuries at both Leeds United and in Suffolk.
However, it’s up front, where Daryl Murphy (32) could galvanise a starting position if Ipswich get promoted and he starts scoring in the Premier League. Age may be against him but 27 goals in 46 Championship games demands attention.
So a lot could hinge on these next 5 games- could Bamford return to Teeside as an Irish Premier League player, could Jonathan Douglas be the midfield anchor following his return to the top division or will Daryl Murphy become Ireland’s lone striker after banging in some August Premier League goals?