Tuesday 21 November 2017

The long and lonely summer

Irish players in UK facing uncertain futures as pre-season set to start

Former Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given is looking for a new club after being released by Stoke City.
Former Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given is looking for a new club after being released by Stoke City.

The loneliness of the out-of-contract footballer is a feeling that kicks in this time of the year for a batch of Irish exports to the UK.

And while players like Jonny Hayes (with his £1million move to Celtic from Aberdeen) and Sean Maguire (once his transfer from Cork City to Preston becomes official next week) can enjoy a rise in salary to play on a bigger stage, there's nervousness about the future, and the prospect of unemployment for many of their compatriots.

A number of players with senior international experience are definitely on the move.

Keepers Shay Given (Stoke) and David Forde (Millwall) were both leg go when their contracts ran out. Forde was looking likely re-sign for Portsmouth, where he had a successful loan spell last season, but the newly-promoted club now appear to have other targets. But Forde had an excellent season for Pompey and he will find a club. Given (41) is also determined to play on for another season at least.

"Yes, I am 41 but I do feel I could go on for another year, be it as a number two or three in the Premier League, or number one in the Championship," he recently told the Sunday Independent.

John O’Shea’s future at Sunderland is up in the air amid a possible change of ownership of the club. Photo: PA Wire
John O’Shea’s future at Sunderland is up in the air amid a possible change of ownership of the club. Photo: PA Wire

"There might be one last hurrah, a promotion, just depends what is out there. I have no divine right to get a club but if someone came along and it was of interest, it might happen."

In defence, ex-internationals Kevin Foley (Coventry), Eddie Nolan (Blackpool) and Stephen Kelly (Rotherham) all had tough seasons last term, Foley and Kelly seeing their sides relegated and the three defenders are also free agents.

Midfielder Jonathan Douglas (35) also had tough times last season, with Ipswich, where he was at times singled out by fans for abuse and his two-year spell with Ipswich is at an end.

Also leaving Ipswich, without fanfare, is Leon Best. Still only 30, Best endured a rough time at Portman Road last season where he failed to score in 12 games and was effectively an outcast for the second half of the season, Mick McCarthy making it clear that the former Newcastle forward would not play for him again.

They are the internationals who we know are on the move, but there will be more.

Glenn Whelan's time at Stoke appears to be over, after the club said they were willing to listen to offers even though the 33-year-old has a year left on his contract.

Also under contract, but unwanted, is Daryl Murphy. He played a role as Newcastle United got promoted to the Premier League but Murphy has already been told by boss Rafa Benitez that he is unlikely to feature much in the top flight next term and Newcastle will also listen to offers.

James McCarthy is on a long-term deal with Everton but, given the public spats between the club and the FAI over McCarthy's insistence on reporting for international duty while not fully fit (in the eyes of his club at least)

Striker Anthony Stokes has another two years left on his deal with Blackburn Rovers but it's hard to see him seeing that out. Last season, his first at Ewood Park, was a disaster, for the player and the club: Stokes started just two league games and didn't score a goal as Blackburn slid into the third tier.

Clubs in Poland, who tried to sign Stokes mid-way through last season but were rebuffed, in no small part to the Dubliner's wage demands, have reignited their interest in Stokes this summer and, given the success of compatriot Cillian Sheridan in Poland's Ekstraklasa last season (his side, Jagiellonia Bialystok, were beaten to the league title on the last day of the term but still had the best season in their history) a move to Poland is not out of the question.

John O'Shea is technically out of contract with Sunderland and was in demand from other clubs - Wolves were most keen - but while any formal talks are on hold until doubts over a takeover of the club are cleared up, O'Shea is expected to stay on with Sunderland for what would be a seventh season.

There are some intriguing names on the list of those on a free (see panel). Experienced LOI graduates like Paul Keegan, Dave Mooney, Noel Hunt, Sean Dillon and Pat Hoban are available, they have some interest from clubs here and could opt to return home, though Hunt in particular is keen to stay in England.

Owen Garvan, though, appears to be on his way home, a number of LOI sides eager to land the 29-year-old, who was playing in the Premier League only four years ago, after his time at Colchester United ended.

Gavin Gunning, still just 26, has been in England for a decade but he started just 12 games last season for a Grimsby side which finished mid-table in the fourth tier and he's on the move, Gunning already linked with Shamrock Rovers.

Noe Baba, the Cameroon-born, Mayo-raised utility man, has been unable to make the breakthrough at Birmingham City, and a move home could suit the 20-year-old, Sligo Rovers an option.

Dean Ebbe, who made three SPL appearances for Inverness last season in their unsuccessful fight against relegation, is also on a free but having waited for so long to get his chance across the water, the 22-year-old will try to stick it out in the UK.

There are also some interesting moves. Ambitious League One side Bury have signed up four Irish players, Alan Power's reward for his exploits with non-league Lincoln last season is a move to Kilmarnock, and keep an eye on Enda Stevens' progress in the Championship.

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