Irish Eyes Far From Smiling – Future Looks Bleak
One of the main ‘concerns’ going into the Republic of Ireland’s vital clash with Poland is an injury to James McClean. Ironically, that in itself should be a massive worry: that the Wigan winger’s possible absence will be seen as a big blow to the squad.
It may sound a tad harsh but, in truth, it’s hard to argue James McClean is an international-class footballer and at 25 years-old isn’t likely to develop into one, either. He’s a decent Championship player and a hard-working lad who gives his all for the cause but against the crème de la crème of international football, the Derry man won’t cut the mustard. And he’s not the only one.
The current squad is filled with players that don’t meet the requisite standard. At present, the Irish set-up quality-wise is arguably at its lowest ebb in decades. There are still some fine players, obviously, but long gone are the days of Jack Charlton or even Mick McCarthy’s tenures.
The ‘Celtic Tiger’ era was coined in relation to the economic boom of the mid-nineties but it could have also easily referred to the quality of stars we produced before and during that period. If the austerity that followed has bitten viciously financially-speaking, it has also hit our footballing set-up hard.
In fact the dearth of young Irish players coming through at Premier League level these days is quite alarming. Of the recently announced U-21 squad to face Andorra there are only four connected with top flight clubs, all of which are nowhere near first team football.
Of the entire U21 set up only Jack Grealish – currently on a year’s international break – is currently playing Premier League football. Aston Villa’s 19-year-old wonder boy is the jewel in the battered, broken crown of Irish football at present and his allegiance to the green cause is being tested.
Even though the Birmingham-born youngster has represented the Republic throughout the various youth levels, the English FA have belatedly sought to change his mind. Whilst it looks like Grealish has finally committed to the green jersey, no longer will talented prospects with Irish heritage easily slip through the net into our welcoming hands.
Premier League Power
In addition to a more belligerent English FA, our youngsters are also failing to develop significantly across the pond. Where once scores of young Irishmen were being given regular Premier League game time after coming through various academies, clubs, in addition to their own domestic talent, are now scouring and importing kids from Europe and honing them from the ages of 11 onwards whereas the majority of Irish youngsters don’t leave our shores until they’re 15 or 16 – already years behind in technical development.
It doesn’t mean the potential talent isn’t there – it may well be – but Irish youngsters are now being swallowed up and spat out by the all-consuming impatience the Premier League and its greed has created. Very, very few of our young players will be given the time to thrive at the highest level with the best resources. Instead, they may have to drop down to various levels to develop meaning it may be years before they are good enough to perform at international standard.
Whilst our current squad contains some excellent Premier League players in Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Shane Long, we are now dropping into the Championship more and more for players and that can’t be good for our long-term prospects.
Sunday evening’s pivotal game with Poland is rightfully our main priority; the here and now is fundamentally important but we cannot ignore the future and it doesn’t look too healthy.