The future of football in the Republic of Ireland looks very bright, certainly if you look beyond the European Championships this summer and into the reign of Stephen Kenny.
Mick McCarthy is currently in charge of the senior side, drawing many of his players from the English leagues or invoking the grandparent rule. The Times reports how he had pursued Leeds striker Patrick Bamford in 2019, hoping to get the Grantham-born striker into the Ireland squad.
Bamford resisted and McCarthy, a Barnsley-born former Ireland defender, relented. The tactic of picking players based on distance relatives is nothing new; they enjoyed success of sorts in the World Cups in both Italia 90 and USA 94. How successful it is in the modern-day is debatable, the FAI website confirms they’ve got a two-legged play-off with Slovakia to negotiate before they can start thinking about tournament success.
However, that doesn’t look like being the blueprint of the future. The new manager has already been chosen. 48-year-old former Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny is the manager-elect, the man set to take over once Ireland either qualify for the Euros or don’t. He’s in charge of the Under 21 team at the minute and has been picking League of Ireland players, or those predominately born in Ireland.
We’ve already covered how the World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign will be the first opportunity for many of Ireland’s next generation of young players to stake their claim for places in the senior team. Who are these exciting young players though? Let’s give you the lowdown on four of them.
You might already have heard of Zack Elbouzedi if it hadn’t been for an injury that set his career back. The lightning quick winger was on the books of West Brom before a move to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, where he barely played.
A spell with Waterford resurrected his career and he recently signed for League One side Lincoln City. He’s still a permanent fixture in Kenny’s Under 21 squad and could well progress with regular senior football.
If you haven’t heard of Zack Elbouzedi, the chances are you will have heard about Idah. He’d been linked with a loan move to League One this winter, but instead grabbed the headlines in Norwich City’s FA Cup third-round game.
bwin News explains how Norwich were winless in nine league games before facing Bournemouth at Carrow Road but had beaten Preston 4-2 in the FA Cup courtesy of Idah’s hattrick. The cat was out of the bag: the 18-year-old became headline news and started their next game against Manchester United.
He’s powerful, can hold the ball up or get in behind and may now benefit from Premier League football too.
Kelleher won’t be a regular for his parent club’s first team for a while: he’s on the books of Premier League leaders Liverpool but is impressing in the Irish youth ranks. He’s played three times for the Reds in the League Cup and recently had a call up to the Eire senior side.
He’s a towering keeper, formerly of Ringmahon Rangers and the next step for his development will surely be a loan to a lower league club for senior experience, giving Manchester United’s Kieran O’Hara competition over the next few seasons.
Cassidy is an outside bet for a place in any future senior squads; he’s only 18 but has impressed for Watford’s youth teams. He left St. Kevin’s Boys to link up with the Hornets and slammed home 12 goals in 14 appearances for their Under 18s.
He’s now hoping for a chance in senior football, much like Adam Idah, to at least grab a place in Kenny’s final Under 21 squad in March.