With the start of the Premier League season just weeks away, Brian Barry looks at five Irishmen with a big year ahead.
1. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
Jack Grealish is one of a large Irish contingent at Villa. Born in England, his father hails from Dublin which ensures that he is eligible to play for Ireland.
Having made his debut for the Ireland u21 side in August 2013, he has reaffirmed his commitment to the country. He was sent out on loan to Notts County last season, where he impressed, making 37 appearances.
With Roy Keane now as assistant manager for both Villa and Ireland, Grealish will be eager to make a big impression. This could be a break-through season for the 18-year-old, as his career may be ready to launch both in the Premier League and internationally.
2. David Meyler (Hull City)
The former Cork City man’s 2013/2014 season will probably best be remembered for his sideline altercation with Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, but it had many more highlights than that isolated incident.
He made 40 appearances with Hull City in the Premier League and FA Cup, scoring a goal in the FA Cup semi-final along the way.
Having netted on his international debut against Oman, Meyler has not been able to nail down a place on the starting XI consistently. Like so many others, he will be keen to impress the new management. With another good season under the belt, he will be hard to ignore.
3. Robbie Brady (Hull City)
Brady underwent a hernia operation which ruled him out of most of last season. Along with the likes of Séamus Coleman and James McCarthy, he is one of the shining hopes for the future of the national team.
After years of promise at Manchester United, Brady made the permanent switch to Hull City and has shown great potential in the Premier League games that he has been fit for.
In the increasingly fickle world of football, it is easier for managers at big clubs to buy top-class players, rather than wait for their youths to mature into first team players. Brady recognised this, and his career potential has skyrocketed since joining the Tigers.
If fit, the Dubliner will be a major part of Martin O’Neill’s plans heading into the European qualifiers.
4. Kevin Long (Burnley)
Another Cork City export, Long has been moving up the ranks since moving to England. Loan spells at Accrington Stanley, Rochdale, and Portsmouth have seen the 23-year-old gain valuable experience, and he will be looking to break into the first team of newly-promoted Burnley.
Long’s versatility is a big attraction, playing at both centre-half and fullback. One big season and he will catch the attention of O’Neill and Keane.
5. Shane Duffy (Everton)
The former Northern Ireland youth player featured heavily for Yeovil Town in the Championship last season. Back at Everton, the Derryman faces a make-or-break year at the Toffees.
His Republic of Ireland career did not get the ideal start, suffering a life-threatening injury during a training game in 2010. However, he recovered quickly, and has been named in several provisional squads for international matches since.
There is a sense that at 22, this is the year that Duffy has to break into Roberto Martinez’s first team plans and gain some Premier League action if he is to have a future at Everton. A regular starter in the upper half of the Premier League is not something Ireland can boast about much these days, and should he make it, the national team will be better for it.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.