Nobody can say that the English lower league play-offs fail to provide value for money, but how can Irish football benefit from all this drama?
In a time when our representation in the Premier League is based almost entirely on being a feeder country for clubs like Hull and Everton, the arrival of new Irish players at the highest level in English football (as with Hull last season) does provide a fillip for any Irish manager trying to make do with limited resources.
James McClean and Wigan had fallen at the semi-final hurdle to Richard Dunne and Kevin Doyle’s QPR, while Stephen Ward and Brighton were to suffer a trouncing at the same stage by Derby. The re-emergence of Derby under a seemingly revitalised Steve McClaren has been a rare exciting development for the Irish supporting faithful. Unlike all of the above mentioned players, Derby’s Irish contingent were players who had slipped under the international radar for several years bar the odd cameo in friendlies.
Unfortunately for Richard Keogh, it would be his poor clearance that set up Bobby Zamora for the all-important winner. A victory for Derby would have sealed what has been an incremental rise for the Essex born centre-half. Keogh had surely earned his shot at the Premier League when one considers how he has being recognised in terms of excellence and consistency across his career in the lower leagues:
- Bristol City’s Young Player of the Year for the 2006–07 season
- In his final season at Carlisle, Keogh won the 2009–10 Carlisle Player of the Year award
- Keogh played every minute of every game for the season 2010–11 with Coventry City
- Keogh was voted Players’ Player of the Year at the end of the 2010–11 season awards for Coventry City.
- Keogh played every game for Coventry since signing for the club until a dismissal in the game at home to Doncaster Rovers in April 2012, which brought an end to a run of 91 consecutive games played
- Keogh won the Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year awards with Coventry for a second consecutive year in 2011-12
- On signing for Derby in July 2012, he was immediately made captain of the football club
- Keogh was an ever present in Derby’s 2012–13 season, one of only two outfield players to play in every minute of every game in the Championship
- Keogh was awarded Derby County’s Player of the Season as well as the Players’ and Supporters awards in 2012-13
That is an exceptional record, but alas, the higher the level goes the margin for error becomes less and less. This fact that Keogh found out the hard way. Bobby Zamora with a wealth of Premier League experience behind him (not to mention another play-off final winning goal for West Ham previously) punished an uncharacteristic but crucial mistake that you would not get away with in the Premier League.
Jeff Hendrick has similarly been a driving force behind Derby this season and has been a virtual ever-present in central midfield for Derby over a number of years now even if he is still only 22. In spite of 12 week lay-off at the beginning of the season, he still clocked over 30 appearances in a competitive area for Derby with Craig Bryson, Paul Coutts and the prestigious talent that is Will Hughes all vying for starting spots.
Similar to the recognition lavished on Keogh, Hendrick has been almost the next stand out performer for Derby winning the clubs Young Player of the Year award in 2012 and coming runner up to Keogh for the Derby County Player of the Season Award last season.
That he won’t be making the step up for another season in spite of standing out especially in the play-off semi-final versus Brighton is a crying shame from an international perspective. Hendrick’s position in the Championship gives Glenn Whelan added security on the team sheet when we should be looking to new options in that area of the field.
And as for Derby’s other Irish representative Conor Sammon, we know quite well at this stage what he brings to the table at international level. This observer would dare suggest we don’t need to see any more from him.
This isn’t to begrudge QPR their victory but from an Irish perspective having a 34 year old Richard Dunne back in the Premier League isn’t of much benefit at this stage. Kevin Doyle’s future seems open for debate, although Redknapp would seem to rate him seeing as he stuck with him even after injury ended his initial loan spell at the club. But again Doyle’s form has dropped considerably in recent years and now at 30, he’s not bringing anything fresh to the table that we haven’t seen before from him.
It is in watching games such as Republic of Ireland v Turkey at the weekend that you realise how wafer thin our squad is in crucial areas. Could Keogh do a job at centre half? He certainly offers as viable an option as the mistake prone Ciaran Clark in that department and perhaps is a more realistic, youthful and better option than Richard Dunne or Damien Delaney for the medium term heading into the latter stages of a Euro 2016 campaign.
Given the ongoing embarrassment that is Stephen Ireland and the similarly shameful petulance of Darron Gibson during the Trappatoni era, it would have also been nice to see Hendrick as a Premier League fresh face along with the like of David Meyler freshening up what has been almost a central midfield consensus over the past 5/6 years.
Playing Championship football doesn’t exclude you from playing for Ireland but it does make it that much harder as some of the current squad will agree. Derby’s loss is equally a blow to Martin O’ Neill and the Republic of Ireland.
Stephen Twomey, Pundit Arena