The League of Ireland has become a bigger and bigger shop window for clubs from across Britain, with the talent emerging from the league rising steadily to the stage where now much of Ireland’s international squad is made up of ex-League of Ireland legends.
Here we select 10 of the best to have left our league in the last 10 years.
10. David Forde – Millwall
Forde, 34 has extensive links to the League of Ireland, having played for both Galway and Derry City on separate occasions.
Forde’s first venture away from Ireland was to Barry Town in Wales in 2001, joining from Galway. Following this spell, Forde moved to West Ham for a spell which was punctuated by loan moves to both Derry and Barnet.
Two more consecutive spells at Galway and Derry followed this. Eventually Forde moved onto Cardiff City before becoming a mainstay at Millwall from 2008 onwards.
Forde has gained the majority of his recognition since lining out for the Republic of Ireland, following his debut in 2011, but he will hold a special place in the memory of League of Ireland fans and particularly Derry and Galway supporters for his time in Ireland.
9. Kevin Doyle – Wolves
The former Cork City man may have fallen off the radar in the last number of years, but his impact immediately, and for many years after leaving Ireland, makes Kevin Doyle was one of the shining lights to have come through League of Ireland football.
He began his career at St. Pat’s before moving onto Cork City where he confirmed his place as one of the league’s greatest strikers.
He then moved onto Reading, helping them to the Championship title in 2006. From here, Doyle moved onto Wolves where he has been involved in one of the greatest lows in the club’s recent history as they were relegated from the Premier League and Championship in just two seasons.
Doyle has had loan spells at Crystal Palace and QPR in an effort to reignite his career but he has found it difficult to find the form he once possessed. Despite this, Doyle has to be one of the most successful players to ever blossom from the LOI and his international appearance record of 61 caps is testament to this.
8. Daryl Murphy – Ipswich Town
This season’s Championship top scorer – Daryl Murphy is certainly worthy of inclusion when one looks at his performances, particularly this season.
Murphy’s LOI connection begins in his native Waterford where he last played for his hometown club in 2005 before moving onto Sunderland where he helped the club win the Championship in 2007.
He’s only made 14 caps for the Boys in Green but with Shane Long featuring as understudy at Southampton and Robbie Keane surely set to bow out soon, it may time for the Waterford man to come to forefront of Ireland’s attack.
7. Eoin Doyle – Cardiff City
Former Sligo, Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers man, Doyle – who has most recently signed for Cardiff City from Chesterfield – has been included for his meteoric rise so far this season, which has seen him score an amazing 25 goals already.
He may not have as much of an established name as some of the other players in this list but if his form this season is anything to go by, Doyle could become a more recognisable figure within Irish football in the near future.
Martin O’Neill is yet to decide on his squad for the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland but many tip Doyle to be one of the new faces which may come into the squad.
Bright times certainly lay ahead for the 26-year-old Dubliner.
6. David Meyler – Hull City
Although not a regular with Hull at the moment, the Cork man has played a significant role for his country in the last number of years as well as helping Hull solidify themselves as a Premier League entity since joining the Tigers, initially on loan in 2012.
Meyler made a handful of appearances for Cork City before joining Sunderland in 2008. However, it has been the 25-year-old’s move to Hull that has cemented his reputation as a quality LOI export.
A hard-working player and great passer of the ball; Meyler is composed on the ball and although things aren’t going to plan with Hull at the moment, despite a goal against Manchester City recently, expect Meyler to find game time elsewhere in the Premier League if he is to move on.
5. James McClean – Wigan Athletic
The Derry native spent three years with his hometown club before moving onto Sunderland in 2011. McClean made 59 league appearances in total for the Black Cats in what were arguably the two best seasons the 25-year-old has had in his career, to date.
McClean has realistically failed to live up to the hype created from his early flashes of brilliance in the north-east. However, he is one of a rare breed of wingers whose a tough tackler and rarely relinquishes his defensive duties.
Not only is McClean an integral part of his club side Wigan, he appears to be a vital element of Martin O’Neill’s and Roy Keane’s plans for the future.
McClean is certainly a fantastic example of the production line of talent that cements Derry’s reputation as a great place for young players to learn their trade. Michael Duffy being case in point.
4. Paddy McCourt – Brighton & Hove Albion
The former Derry City man was one of the most naturally gifted players to play in the League of Ireland. He made his name in Ireland with Shamrock Rovers before moving onto Derry City for three subsequent years.
While playing for his hometown club, McCourt won three League Cups as well as the FAI Cup in 2006.
From there he moved onto Celtic where he struggled to make a major impact but was at the club for five years in a time which the Glasgow club won the League title twice as well as two Scottish Cups.
The 31-year-old moved to Barnsley last season before signing for Brighton & Hove Albion this year. Although he has spent the majority of his career in Scotland and England, McCourt will be fondly remembered for his time at Derry in particular.
3. Shane Long – Southampton
He is being overshadowed this year by his strike partner Graziano Pelle at Southampton, however Long is without doubt a key component of Ireland’s attack.
Since leaving Cork City’s youth side, Long has successfully scored and created goals wherever he has been. He is finding it more of a struggle at the Saints however, such is Pelle’s ability in front of goal and manager Ronald Koeman’s preference for the Italian frontman.
It may not be too comforting as Ireland fans knowing that once Robbie Keane finally hangs up his boots we must realistically rely on Long to lead the line.
However, the impact Long has been able to make on the English top flight football in particular has been immense when compared to where he started.
2. Wes Hoolahan – Norwich City
For League of Ireland midfield exports, Wes Hoolahan is certainly one of the top contenders. The 32-year-old midfield man has to be up there with some of the most technically-gifted players to leave the league in the last decade.
His composure on the ball has made him a standout figure and if it hadn’t been for Giovanni Trapattoni’s over-defensive style of play, Hoolahan would have surely figured more steadily.
The Dublin native is in for more competition now that his side Norwich find themselves mid-table in the Championship.
Hoolahan has now established himself as a creative and renowned midfielder and although he hasn’t been recognised hugely on the international stage at times, he will be remembered fondly by Shelbourne and Norwich fans in particular for his long service to both clubs.
1. Seamus Coleman – Everton
It would be difficult not to select Seamus Coleman in our list. He is now considered one of the greatest right-backs in the Premier League, if not in Europe. Coleman made his way to Everton via Sligo Rovers in a brief but brilliant two year spell with the Bit O’ Red.
Coleman is now considered an invaluable part of Everton’s defensive unit. Not only is he a crucial element of the Toffees’ backline but he is equally as important for Ireland.
The Donegal native is defensively strong but the attacking element of his game is going from strength to strength in every game the 26-year-old features.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Michael Kranewitter (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-at (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/at/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons.