Of the 20 players Jim Crawford has named in the Republic of Ireland U21 squad that he’s bringing to Cork, four are currently representing clubs in the League of Ireland Premier Division.
Of those four players, three are currently on loan from clubs in the United Kingdom, including Ollie O’Neill, who believes those transfers are only going to become more popular.
“I was having this conversation a couple of days ago among the boys. I think the league is getting better,” admitted O’Neill, who is on loan at Derry City from Fulham.
“Sometimes as Irish people we have a tendency to underrate it. Maybe over the past 10 or 15 years that perception has stuck.
“But if you look at the league, there are players in there with real quality, especially in the top tier. I think there’s that and probably academy football in England is at a point where players need to start playing senior football and this is a route where they can do it and get quickly snapped up.
“It’s probably different for Irish players. I know what I’m getting into. But you are probably seeing more academy boys who don’t have links to Ireland coming over in the next few years.” Had it not been for issues with his ankle, O’Neill may well have continued to ply his trade cross-channel.
But the young forward is embracing his time with the Candystripes, although he does think they ought to have done better than the three wins and three draws from their opening six league games.
“I had a situation with my ankle where I was out over the transfer deadline, so that put a stop to a few of those things,” he continued.
“Then from that stage it was very straightforward. It all suited me, so I was very happy to go along.
“We are probably at a stage where we are not that satisfied with it (Derry’s start). We feel we should be a bit better off.
“There are a couple of points that we dropped at home in the last few weeks that we’re unhappy with.
“But to get to this international break unbeaten and feeling like we have a few more levels to go up is probably a good enough place to be. We can kick on after this.” This being the international break which sees the Ireland U21s take on Iceland in a friendly at Turner’s Cross on Sunday.
This will be the first time the U21s have been in action since their heart-breaking European Championship play-off defeat to Israel on penalties back in September.
It will also serve as the first of many warm-up matches ahead of the next round of Euro qualifiers kicking off in September.
“It was pretty much as close as you could get without qualifying,” added O’Neill.
“But that’s life, isn’t it? At least I have the consolation of being able to start another campaign, whereas for some of the boys that was genuinely their last kick of their Irish 21s journey.
“Irish youth football is at a really good point in terms of the 17s, 19s and 21s over the last five or 10 years, with players coming through.
“It definitely feels like, in terms of quality of players, we are going in the right direction. If we could get over that line of qualifying, it would be great.”