Green shoots offer hope for future

They were known as the superb six, a cohort ready-made to complement Ireland’s golden generation of Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, but the tribulations of those bright young things should temper the hype attaching to the latest sextet.

Green shoots offer hope for future

They were known as the superb six, a cohort ready-made to complement Ireland’s golden generation of Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, but the tribulations of those bright young things should temper the hype attaching to the latest sextet.

Despite all the flak shipped by Stephen Staunton for his ill-fated 20 months in charge between February 2006 and October 2007, he was responsible for drafting Darron Gibson, Anthony Stokes, Darren O’Dea, Paul McShane, Stephen Ireland, and Joey O’Brien into their first squads.

All got to play in the top-flight of their respective leagues, O’Dea enhancing his reputation in Scotland by featuring against AC Milan in the Champions League, but their international careers failed to take flight.

Across all six, they can count an aggregate cap haul of bang on 100.

That was the figure which this time last year was being predicted for Declan Rice alone. But then with his defection Rice’s status as the great hope for Irish football is drifting towards other contenders.

That has been fuelled by the exploits of a batch of tyros since Christmas.

From Michael Obafemi becoming the youngest Irishman to score in the Premier League last December to Mark Travers making his debut in goal for Bournemouth in April, those green shoots began sprouting.

Then, there’s the case of Troy Parrott. Still only 17, he was part of the Tottenham first-team squad while still only 16.

Jayson Molumby and Adam Idah were another pair involved in recent pre-season games for their Premier League clubs.

Nathan Collins might have joined them on that stage, before opting to stave off interest from Manchester United, for now anyway, by agreeing a lucrative, long-term contract with Stoke City.

That’s a big six with plenty of expectation heaping upon them as the new seasons kick off over the next couple of weekends. It’s understandable for the giddiness levels to spike amongst Irish fans.

Rice’s absence for the first international of last season highlighted the paucity of options available to the senior manager.

While Ryan Giggs used six players aged 22 or younger on the night of that 4-1 mauling by Wales, Martin O’Neill’s most youthful participants were the two Callums, Robinson and O’Dowda. Both were 23 and both were produced outside of the FAI’s jurisdiction.

Now, an influx of rookies has given O’Neill’s successor, Mick McCarthy, some welcome selection headaches in the weeks, and months, ahead.

The clamour for Parrott’s inclusion, in particular, has intensified on the back of his central involvement for Spurs in recent weeks.

Richard Dunne has led the calls for the fast-tracking to commence without delay, if not for the Euro 2020 qualifier against Switzerland on September 5, then the friendly four days later with Bulgaria.

On the same night, future senior boss Stephen Kenny will in Sweden with his U21s facing the trickiest test so far of their Euro qualifying campaign. It will be interesting to discover where the priorities lay.

McCarthy faced a similar challenge of youthful integration during his first stint when Brian Kerr’s team were regular participants at the U20 World Cup. We’re nowhere near that utopian state of 20 years ago. And the salutary lessons of the last grouping carrying the hopes of a nation 10 years ago should apply a health warning to presumptions.

By then, Joey O’Brien was already a peripheral figure on the international circuit, miffed at Giovanni Trapattoni’s approach, yet more frustrated at the injuries punctuating his progress.

His contemporary Stephen Ireland didn’t prescribe to the Italian’s approach either, preferring to extend his self-imposed exile following a meeting between the pair.

O’Dea was never a first-choice under Trap, winning most of his 20 caps in friendlies, a similar experience to McShane.

His former Manchester United colleague Gibson began that era as a mainstay of the midfield only for the relationship to sour at the Euro 2012 finals.

O’Neill cited match fitness concerns when excluding his fellow Derryman for the next trip to the Euros four years later.

Gibson’s brushes with the law alienated him further from an international recall, a fate which also befell Stokes.

His demise, of the six, has been the most alarming. Like Parrott, he attracted the tag of Keane’s natural successor, one reinforced by his early promise at Arsenal and then Sunderland.

But that promised was to be unfulfilled. Stokes didn’t score in his nine games for Ireland, his last coming five years ago.

There’s a long way back into the Ireland squad from the Turkish second division he’s just posted as his latest port.

Money and fame form just a few of the distractions that can derail the most convincing cases of seemingly safe bets.

SIX OF THE BEST

Michael Obafemi (Southampton)

Age: 18.

Dublin-born striker is wedded to Ireland following his senior cameo against Denmark last November. Has recovered from hamstring trouble to feature for the Saints in pre-season.

Nathan Collins (Stoke City)

Age: 18.

The latest member of the Collins dynasty is on course to go furthest. An imposing centre-back, he’ll add to his three Championship appearances.

Adam Idah (Norwich City)

Age: 18.

The highly-rated striker from Cork signed a four-year deal on the day he was fast-tracked into the first-team by boss Daniel Farke. Could go on loan.

Mark Travers (Bournemouth)

Age: 20.

His man-of-the-match display against Tottenham in April made Travers an overnight sensation and he is well placed to challenge Asmir Begovic and Artur Boruc for the No 1 spot.

Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur)

Age: 17.

The brightest jewel of them all showed in friendlies against Manchester United and Real Madrid how comfortable he is on the big stage.

Jayson Molumby (Brighton and Hove Albion)

Age: 19.

Injury disrupted last season but a loan move to Millwall should provide a platform for the Waterford midfielder to shine.

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