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Kenny’s Kids: St Pat’s academy blazing the trail for Irish football’s next chapter

The St Pat’s academy is producing an exciting wave of young Irish talent.

In just the last few days, St Patrick’s Athletic have seen centre-back James Abankwah link up with Udinese, winger Darragh Burns agree terms with MK Dons and goalkeeper Josh Keeley sign with Tottenham Hotspur. 

A reported £300,000 was also allocated to their budget following the transfer of former defender Luke McNally from Oxford United to Burnley. McNally played for Pat’s in 2020 before heading to England with a sell-on clause included in his contract. 

What is clear is that the Pat’s academy is producing the goods and it’s far from finished. Highly-tipped right-back Sam Curtis is only 16  years of age but has already gone on trial with some of Europe’s elite clubs. While, midfielder Adam Murphy, who recently turned 17,  is another with high hopes for the future. 

Check the club’s teamsheet any Friday evening and you can find up to eight recent Ireland underage internationals in their squad. And that’s not including 21-year-old midfielder Adam O’Reilly who is rumoured to be on the radar of Serie B side Como. 

You get the picture.

St Pat’s academy flying the flag for League of Ireland pathway.

The League of Ireland underage pathway implemented by former FAI Director of Football Ruud Doktor has its flaws, but some of the exported talent by the likes of St Pat’s, Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians would suggest that it is starting to help Irish football. 

The proof will be found in how quickly players can adapt at their new clubs abroad and, further to the point, just how far they can make it in the game. The early steps of Gavin Bazunu (Shamrock Rovers), Evan Ferguson (Bohemians) and Festy Ebosele (Bray Wanderers) are encouraging in that regard and this wave of St Pat’s players will add to the sample size. 

The schoolboy clubs served Irish football terrifically for years but it’s hard to ignore the absence of new Ireland internationals for almost seven years between 2013 and 2020. That sort of dearth cannot be repeated if the country is to have any kind of successful football industry and thankfully, recent signs suggest it won’t be repeated. 

The evidence? Well the age profile of the Ireland senior team is a good place to start. Six of Stephen Kenny’s Ireland team that beat Scotland 3-0 last month were also capped at under-21 level by the former Dundalk boss and it looks like he’ll have many more options to choose from in the medium term as Irish teenagers begin to earn contracts in England and continental Europe at an unprecedented rate. 

Kevin Zefi (Rovers to Inter), Cathal Heffernan (Cork City to AC Milan), Jamie Mullins (Bohs to Brighton), Killian Cahill (Rovers to Brighton), Trent Kone Doherty (Derry to Liverpool) and Alex Murphy (Galway to Newcastle) are just some of the recent examples of non-St Pat’s League of Ireland players to get snapped up abroad. 

St Pat's Academy

St Pat’s receive fair money for academy talents.

League of Ireland players earning deals by well respected clubs is half the job done as it’s clear this country is capable of producing its own talented teenagers. With Brexit preventing English clubs from developing our players until they turn 18, that is vitally important. The second half of the job however, is to ensure that the selling clubs receive satisfactory compensation by negotiating suitable contracts.

Gavin Bazunu’s deal with Manchester City has now earned Shamrock Rovers in excess of €3 million which means they can now reinvest to improve their academy further and, by extension, help the domestic game. It’s almost the perfect blueprint and the reported deals secured by St Pat’s would give hope that more League of Ireland clubs are starting to receive similar fees.

The undisclosed fee between Udinese and Pat’s for Ireland under-19 centre-back James Abankwah is understood to be in the same region as the Bazunu figure and the Saints also look to have secured a fair deal for winger Darragh Burns.

Burns’s contract expires at the end of the season but MK Dons are still expected to pay more than €200,000 for the Dubliner. While, on a technicality or two, Spurs-bound goalkeeper Josh Keeley could earn Pat’s more then €1 million if a number of clauses and add-ons are triggered in the future.

Whatever work is being done in the Pat’s academy is working a treat and excitingly, there are more names to keep an eye out for in the future:

Darragh Burns St Pat's

St Patrick’s Athletic academy prospects.

Recent St Pat’s transfers completed: 

Josh Keeley: Goalkeeper. 18 years old. Tottenham Hotspur.

James Abankwah: Defender. 18 years old. Udinese.

Rumoured St Pat’s transfers:

Darragh Burns: Winger. 19 years old. MK Dons.

Sam Curtis: Defender. 16 years old. Feyenoord.

Adam O’Reilly. Midfielder. 21 years old. Como 1907.

Some St Pat’s teenagers to keep an eye out for in the future: 

Adam Murphy: Centre-midfielder. 17 years old. Ireland under 17-international.

Ben McCormack: Centre-midfielder. 19 years old. Ireland under-19 international.

Ben Curtis: Defender. 18 years old. Ireland under-15 international.

Kian Corbally: Midfielder. 18 years old. Ireland under-18 international.

Kyle Robuinson: Striker. 19 years old. Ireland under-18 international

Darius Lipsiuc. Midfielder. 16 years old. Ireland under-17 international.

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