Five Championship Stars In Martin O’Neill’s Sights
With a crucial World Cup Qualifier coming in March, Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane will be busy visiting grounds around England before selecting the final squad.
The Republic of Ireland boss however will have his work cut out to whittle the squad down after these youngsters recently caught the eye across the water.
Conor Hourihane – Barnsley
With five goals and 11 assists this season Conor Hourihane has become hot property since the opening of the January transfer window. Rumoured suitors Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa will have noticed the Cork man sits on top of the assist stats in the Championship, four ahead of his nearest challenger.
Having not made the last Republic of Ireland squad to face Austria, Hourihane will be hoping his recent form hasn’t gone unnoticed…
…after Roy Keane encouraged him to ‘do more’ to earn a spot in the international squad. Should a move to Wednesday prevail this month, Hourihane’s chances of Premier League prospects will improve, with the steel city side currently occupying the 4th play-off spot, four points clear of his current employers Barnsley.
Ryan Manning – Queens Park Rangers
It’s a long way from Galway’s Mervue United to the dizzy heights of the Premier League but that’s the journey Ryan Manning wants to take as he currently lights up the Championship with mid-table QPR.
R’s manager Ian Holloway introduced Manning to the QPR line-up with a substitute appearance at Molineux on the last day of 2016 and the youngster made a good enough impression to earn starts in recent games against Ipswich and Reading. With the latter in front of the Sky cameras, he enjoyed a great performance in the limelight at the Madejski setting up a goal for Jamie Mackie with a sumptuous assist.
Expect Messrs Keane and O’Neill to be appearing in the crowd at Loftus Road soon with feedback like this flying around.
Daryl Horgan – Preston North End
Dundalk’s Europa League captain made the trip across the Irish Sea along with teammate Andy Boyle in December and both recently received international recognition with their call-ups to Martin O’Neills squad for the World Cup Qualifier in Austria.
While Boyle awaits his first team bow at Deepdale, Horgan was introduced to the North End faithful as a substitute in their narrow FA Cup defeat at the hands of Arsenal last weekend and received widespread positive feedback, not least from his manager Simon Grayson.
“I thought Daryl had an effect on the game when he came on. He has the potential to excite fans…I’m really pleased with how both players have settled in…hopefully they are going to play a really big part for us.”
Richie Towell – Brighton & Hove Albion
Should Boyle or Horgan make the pitch for Preston this weekend they could find themselves up against another Dundalk graduate, Richie Towell.
It has been a frustrating start across the water for Towell, whose pre-season was marred by a knee injury ruling him out of a huge chunk Brighton’s campaign for Premier League promotion. With Chris Hughton’s side flying high at the top of the Championship, Towell has struggled to break back in the manager’s reckoning.
But he’ll be hoping for a league appearance this weekend having started last weekend’s FA Cup victory over MK Dons, earning praise afterwards from his boss. It was only his second start for the Seagulls, but with injury concerns behind him and a busy schedule ahead for the Championship leaders, are Towell’s woes on the South Coast about take a turn for the better?
Liam Kelly – Reading
Slowly making a name for himself on English soil is 21 year old U-21 international midfielder Liam Kelly.
As well as an eye-catching wondergoal from the halfway line in an U-19 qualifier against Sweden 3 years ago, Kelly now has a handful of impressive performances under his belt for promotion chasing Reading.
The highlight so far was the recent encounter at Bristol City, when Kelly was sent on by manager Jaap Stam with the team trailing 2-0…
…and with only 25 minutes left on the clock. Within 5 minutes, Kelly had bagged his first senior goal, then he provided an assist for the late equaliser before Reading nicked the three points with an injury time winner.
He drew praise from Stam who said Kelly ‘made a difference when he came on with his movement and goal.’ It earned him a start in Reading’s next two fixtures including the glamour FA Cup tie at Old Trafford, where Kelly once more drew rave reviews for his individual performance despite his side’s emphatic defeat.