Friday 13 December 2019

Green growing pains

Beginning of season proving tough for young Irish players

Adam Idah
Adam Idah

Reality bites, and for a lot of people from this country who are plying their trade abroad, the after-taste is bitter.

It's very early days in the season in club football in Britain but already some of that summer sunshine has been replaced by clouds.

Hopes from the summer that pre-season form for the likes of Troy Parrott (Spurs), Caoimhín Kelleher (Liverpool), Adam Idah (Norwich), Gavin Kilkenny (Bournemouth) and Aaron Connolly (Brighton) could transform itself into Premier League minutes has not come to pass, yet.

None of that quintet have even been on the bench for their clubs in the Premier League to date and even with that injury to Liverpool No. 1 Alisson, Kelleher was third choice for the Reds' most recent Premier League game.

Luca Connell said that one of the reasons why he opted for Celtic, among his many suitors as he was leaving crisis club Bolton this summer, was the lure of Champions League football.

Celtic are already out of that competition and Connell (18) played no role at all: on the same night that Neil Lennon's first team were dumped out by Cluj, Connell was playing for their U20 side in a Challenge Cup game away to Falkirk.

Robbie Keane's move into coaching in England (he'd previously worked with only one club side, in India) was touted as the start of a glorious new era for Middlesbrough.

It certainly didn't begin that way for Keane and his boss, Jonathan Woodgate, as a return of one point from the first three league games had Boro in the bottom two, and there was also a troubling League Cup loss at home to Crewe.

"It's a long-term plan, not a short-term plan, and it's not a short-term fix," said Woodgate, relieved to see a win at home to Wigan last night.

Woodgate, and Keane, can only hope that they get more time than Huddersfield, who sacked their manager (former Ireland women's team boss Colin Bell was his No. 2) after three league games. However, Jan Siewert was in charge of the Terriers during the latter part of last season and had only won one game with the club in all that time.

Time is what Ireland's younger players in the Premier League need, and once again we learned that scoring goals in pre-season games in the sun counts for little in the manager's mind when it comes to a battle in the Premier League were every goal, every point, counts.

There was understandable excitement at the sight of Dubliner Parrott, still only 17, playing for Spurs in pre-season against Real Madrid. But his only access to club football, for now, is with the club's U23 side, competition so intense at Spurs that someone like Christian Eriksen could not make the starting XI for the first game of the season.

Idah (Norwich) and Kilkenny (Bournemouth) scored in pre-season but even League Cup football could be beyond them while Michael Obafemi is on the bench, though not the pitch, with Southampton.

There could be an opening for Galway lad Connolly at Brighton after a good start in the U23 league, Seagulls manager Graham Potter saying he's decided, for now, not to send the 18-year-old out on loan.

"We are thinking, 'Could he be around the bench? Could he be around the squad? Could he be involved with us in the first part of the season?' That is the thinking," Potter says of Connolly.

Any breakthrough is likely to come beyond the Premier League, in the Championship. There have already been good signs from Irish teens at Stoke (Nathan Collins) and Derby (Jason Knight) and Dan Crowley has started well at Birmingham.

But at Premier League level, that green wave of talent is still in the building stage.

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