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Sunday 26 January 2020

Young Irish guns need time to fire

Mark Travers has accepted he was at fault for the first goal against Watford on Sunday. Photo: Reuters
Mark Travers has accepted he was at fault for the first goal against Watford on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

In the space of a few days, a group of young Irish players who touched the Holy Grail of Premier League exposure discovered that it has some sharp edges.

And as talents like Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah and Mark Travers have learned, setbacks can very quickly follow success, providing them with a test of character as well as skill.

Having waited a long time to see a cadre of our young players make the breakthrough at the same time in England's top flight, Irish football was spoiled in the last three months: Premier League debuts for teenagers Connolly, Idah and Troy Parrott, and more game time for Travers and Michael Obafemi.

But last weekend showed just how hard it is for those players to make the leap, to show they are men, not boys.

Idah (18) started up front for Norwich away to Manchester United but was replaced after 65 minutes of possession-free frustration, his manager admitting that the day was "difficult" for Idah.

Travers started a Premier League game for Bournemouth for the first time this season, but was at fault for one of the three goals conceded in the home defeat to Watford.

The 20-year-old was big enough to man up to his error, saying he was "disappointed to give away the first goal on my behalf - poor distribution and probably poor game management."

Travers now has to convince coach Eddie Howe this week that he can be trusted for next weekend's season-defining game against fellow struggles Norwich.

Connolly is also finding that a burst of early promise can be hard to follow up. He didn't make the Brighton squad for last week's defeat to Everton, not due to injury but because his manager feels he needs time.

"He is 19, he is a young player, he is learning about the Premier League. He is learning on and off the pitch how to be a top player and we need to help him with that," Brighton boss Graham Potter said.

Obafemi has also encountered a club manager who has his doubts, Southampton boss Ralf Hassenhuttl stating recently of Obafemi that, "He still has a lack of professionalism in his whole life." Obafemi will argue that scoring in a win away to Chelsea punched a hole in those doubts.

But these young Irish players have encountered a bump in the road which the likes of Damien Duff and Richard Dunne avoided, albeit in a different era.

After that generation of Duff, Keane, Dunne, Harte, Carr etc, there were some lost years. Of the Irish who played Premier League football as teens in the last decade, only one (Ciaran Clark) became a regular and League One has looked a more likely final destination.

So this is a test for the likes of Idah and Connolly.

And before a cloud of gloom descends, it should be remembered that there is always hope. Matt Doherty made his Premier League debut in September 2011, and although he did not play in that division again for seven years, he is now one of the most talked-about defenders in the Premier League.

Enda Stevens had a similar gap (six years) in his Premier League CV.

The questions have been asked before, but now it's up to this latest batch of young guns to find the answers.

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