As both the Premier League season and a new era for the Irish national team looms, Brian Barry poses the question as to how the Republic of Ireland would fare if they were a Premier League side.
Ireland are entering the new season with high hopes. With a new manager, there is a renewed sense of optimism. While some key players have hung up their boots, the future is bright with some younger players impressing last season; David Meyler, Robbie Brady, Shane Duffy. The list goes on.
Martin O’Neill is well versed to life in the Premier League with stints at Leicester City, Aston Villa, and Sunderland. He brought Leicester into the league, where they finished ninth, tenth (twice), and eighth in his four seasons at the helm. The Foxes also seized the League Cup on two occasions under the stewardship of the Derryman.
A successful stint at Villa was followed by an underwhelming, albeit solid, tenure at the Black Cats. O’Neill is aware of the ins and outs of the Premier League, and would not be fazed as the Boys in Green take on England’s elite.
Realistically, Ireland would not be competing for honours in the Premier League, but a solid mid-table position could be cautiously hoped for. Considering the highest level any of our players currently ply their trade at is Everton, a top 10 finish would be a huge achievement. However, the passion and atmosphere that surrounds the team may steer them well clear of relegation.
Looking to last season, all teams who survived scored at least 40 goals. An average one goal per game is the minimum requirement to hit the magic 40 points mark. So where would Ireland’s goals come from?
Robbie Keane often hit 20 goals a year in the league, but perhaps that would be an optmistic target as he enters the twilight of his career. While Shane Long is currently Ireland’s brightest option up front, his record eleven goals for a Premier League season must be broken. With Wes Hoolahan the only real option as an attacking midfielder, goals may be a worry over the entire season.
Ireland’s defence is solid. The retirement of Richard Dunne is a blow, but in Séamus Coleman, John O’Shea, Marc Wilson, and Ciarán Clark, we have a back four which could compete at the highest level. Defending the goal of David Forde or Keiren Westwood, this is a defence which could frustrate strikers across England
One thing Ireland has often drawn on is passion. With lots of Irish interest in the Premier League, a weekly full-house would not be a challenge. The enthusiasm surrounding the team, paired with a top-class manager, suggests Ireland may punch above their weight, just like Hull City, Portsmouth, and Southampton in recent times.
With only a few weeks left in the transfer window, Ireland would be looking to bolster their attacking options, and maybe a back-up centre midfielder. Nonetheless, one would be confident of finishing above the likes of Burnley, Leicester, Crystal Palace, and QPR.
Prediction: A 14th place finish, along with an obligatory Martin O’Neill League Cup triumph, would not be out of the question.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.