Clarets raise the spirits for the Premier League’s Boys in Green

Burnley finished the season with four Irish starters: one of the few highlights for Irish players in the Premier League this season, says John Fallon 

Clarets raise the spirits for the Premier League’s Boys in Green

It’s a trend which matters little to Irish fans midway through a campaign on course for World Cup qualification but the green presence in the English Premier League is withering.

Everton had started the season as the greatest hope for the Irish fraternity only for various factors to conspire against them finishing it with one representative in their matchday squad.

Darron Gibson and Aiden McGeady were shown the door by Ronald Koeman, the future of James McCarthy remains uncertain too and the season of newly-appointed Ireland captain Seamus Coleman was brought to a shuddering halt in March by suffering a broken leg while playing for Ireland against Wales.

On the upside, Burnley have taken over the mantle as the Irish haven. Sunday’s concluding match against West Ham United represented the first time in two years that one team in the top-flight featured four Irish starters.

That there were just three across the 19 other clubs provided a more realistic insight as to the standing of the current batch of Irish players attached to Premier League clubs.

Granted, Coleman and Harry Arter are guaranteed first-choices for Everton and Bournemouth respectively when fit yet the age profile of the top-flight quota is a concern.

Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick are the youngest of those seen frequenting the division, just a year behind Burnley teammate, 26-year-old Kevin Long.

Forging a breakthrough within a league awash with cash for any aspiring player, be they Irish or even English, is becoming increasingly difficult and so it was encouraging to see Ireland U19 centre-back Declan Rice be blooded on Sunday as a late substitute for West Ham.

Any English-born player making that leap immediately attracts the attention of their homeland’s national team and there’s every chance Rice will be approached to switch camp in the same manner of Jack Grealish two years ago.

Prospects produced from home, such as Manchester City Jack Byrne and Ian Lawlor, generally don’t wait around the big Premier League clubs for chances they’ll rarely be afforded outside of the League Cup.

Ireland Martin O’Neill has bemoaned not just the lack of emerging gems but especially goalscoring material. This season’s statistics make for grim viewing.

Right-back Coleman finished the campaign as the joint-highest scorer alongside Jon Walters, with four goals. Shane Long is these days, like Walters, used predominantly from the bench and returned just three goals in the league. Robbie Brady’s screamer of a free-kick against Chelsea on February 12 was the last goal scored by an Irishman.

James McClean’s stagnation at West Brom has been a particular disappointment given the strides he made over the season for Ireland.

The hero of Vienna last November was brought down to earth by not starting a Premier League game for another four months, instead morphing into the territory of supersub also inhabited by Long and Walters.

Relegation for Sunderland hurtles John O’Shea and Gibson into the Championship, along with Hull City’s David Meyler. On the way up are O’Neill’s preferred central-defensive partnership, Shane Duffy of Brighton and Newcastle United’s Ciaran Clark.

Paul McShane, Stephen Quinn, and a youthful Liam Kelly could join them in promotion if Reading overcome Huddersfield Town in next week’s play-off final.

Here, we assess the winners and losers of the Irish from the Premier League season.

GOOD SEASON:

Jeff Hendrick (Burnley):

Netted his move to the Premier League from Derby on deadline day last August, Hendrick looked at home in his new surroundings which is good news for Ireland.

Harry Arter (Bournemouth):

His second season in the top-flight saw the midfielder blossom further, leading to speculation of England attempting to entice him away from the Irish fold. That was removed by him featuring against Austria in November.

Darren Randolph (West Ham):

Ended the season back on the bench but earned valuable experience as the Hammers No 1 between November and April.

BAD SEASON:

John O’Shea (Sunderland):

Three seasons of toil at the wrong end of the table eventually gave way with relegation and O’Shea will spend his first campaign outside of the Premier League.

Marc Wilson (West Brom):

A falling-out with Mark Hughes hastened a move from Stoke back to Bournemouth, where he’d featured at on loan early in his career. Wilson failed to settle away from his family and reunited with former boss Tony Pulis for the second half of the season on loan.

James McCarthy (Everton):

A sensible decision reached between the player and Martin O’Neill to allow McCarthy rest for the summer. Another season blighted by injuries.

TIP FOR THE FUTURE

Declan Rice (West Ham)

Physically strong and classy on the ball, the 18-year-old is highly rated by Slaven Bilic. Made his debut at Burnley on Sunday and is poised to go on loan next season.

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