The League of Ireland Premier Division creates some of the most promising talent in Europe, with English teams often scouting the league. English teams not in the Premier League cannot afford to scout regions such as South America so look at more affordable locations such as Ireland.
For many Irish talents, they often do not want to move away from their beloved country as they don’t believe they can get first team football elsewhere in Europe. This has led to many of Ireland’s best talents being discovered in the League of Ireland Premier Division, excelling with first team football, with many English clubs lining up for a lucrative bid.
It could be suggested that the winner of the PFAI Young Player of the Year award is going to have an exceptional career. Is this true? This article presents the last ten PFAI Young Player of the Year winners and where their careers are today.
2010 – Shaun Williams – Sporting Fingal F.C.
Millwall icon Shaun Williams won the award with now dissolved Sporting Fingal in 2010. The defensive midfielder had shown his natural defensive skills in the 2010 campaign, making 32 appearances and netting five times, he was seen as the complete package making defending and attacking look so effortless.
After his successful 2010 season, Williams was signed by EFL League One side, Milton Keynes Dons on a free transfer. The Dublin born midfielder went on to play more than a 100 games for the Dons, while also picking up both Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year in 2013.
This successful campaign earned a move to Millwall in the Championship. He has currently played over 230 games for Millwall, helping them gain promotion back to the Championship in 2018. His consistency with Millwall earned him his first cap for Ireland in 2018, a 4-1 loss to France. The 33-year-old has only been capped three times despite his solid performances since 2013 with MK Dons.
2011 – Enda Stevens – Shamrock Rovers
Arguably the most recognisable name on this list, Stevens has not always been playing in England. The 2011 winner was instrumental in Shamrock Rovers title win, helping them qualify for the Europa League for the first time. Currently being played in a more advanced wing back role, in 2011 Stevens focused more on the defensive aspect of the game, being a nightmare for wingers to try to get past him. This helped him the win PFAI Young Player of the Year award, while attracting attention from the Premier League.
Aston Villa completed the signing of the Irish fullback for €28,000 in 2012, however the fee was agreed in 2011 so Stevens could play in the Europa League with Shamrock Rovers. His time with Villa was limited, and a succession of loans took place to try and find him more minutes, before signing with Portsmouth for free.
The EFL League Two trophy and making it into the Team of the Year was enough for Sheffield United to sign him. After a very respectful ninth place finish with the Blades, Stevens is regarded as one of the league’s most reliable defenders.
2012 – Christopher Forrester – St. Patrick’s Athletic
The versatile midfielder demonstrated why he deserved to win the award back in 2012 with St Patrick’s Athletic due to his technique out on the left hand side. His talent has been recognised since his youth days, winning the FAI Under-17 Cup in 2010 with Belvedere where showed why he later signed with Bohemians.
It was at St. Patrick’s Athletic where Forrester showed his real talent, winning the PFAI Young Player of the Year in 2012 and back-to-back Young Player of the Year awards for The Saints. Along with his immense dribbling talent, Forrester also had a natural instinct for goals, scoring the Goal of the Season in both 2012 and 2014.
Forrester then had spells in both Scotland and England, but never retained his form. He later returned to St Patrick’s Athletic but at 27-years-old, it looks like he will not get capped by Ireland any time soon.
2013 – Richie Towell – Dundalk
Towell did not start his professional career in Ireland, instead he played in Glasgow for Scottish giants Celtic. He only made one appearance for The Hoops so decided to move back to native Ireland to play for Dundalk in 2013.
He was instrumental to Dundalk’s midfield, regardless of his lack of experience, and he helped them finish second. His outstanding passing ability to create numerous chances for his teammates led to Towell winning won the PFAI Young Player of the Year award. This talent carried on for the next two seasons, and he scored 36 goals in just 65 games, and he signed for Brighton & Hove Albion in 2015.
Towell now plays for Class of 92 owned Salford City. He is undoubtedly one of the better players for The Ammies, with Salford fans often wondering if Stephen Kenny will ask him to play for the national team.
2014 – Daryl Horgan – Dundalk
Football runs in the Horgan family, with both Daryl and his brother Christopher having played in the The League of Ireland Premier Division. While Daryl, the more talented of the two siblings, has played for three different League of Ireland Premier Division teams.
Horgan found most success at Dundalk, winning the league three times in a row and solidifying himself as one of the best players in the league. Helping Dundalk win the league in his first season, along with the League Cup, he undoubtedly deserved the PFAI Young Player of the Year. He attracted the attention of many Premier league clubs, such as Newcastle United, but a bid was never made. He ended up at Preston North End where by the end of the 2018 campaign he was often found on the bench.
For a player once described as the best in Ireland by Galway United boss Tommy Dunne in 2016, Horgan has only been capped eight times and now plays for Gareth Ainsworth’s struggling Wycombe Wanderers.
2015 – Brandon Miele – Shamrock Rovers
Brandon Miele started his career with Newcastle United, playing for their youth side for four years alongside the likes of Adam Armstrong and Freddie Woodman. However, without any first team football, Miele returned to Ireland to play for Shamrock Rovers,
2015 was the highlight of his career, winning the PFAI Young Player of the Year and Shamrock Rovers Player of the Year, along with making it into the PFAI Team of the Year. With 11 goals in 22 appearances in 2015, the midfielder was expected to move back to England but he joined fellow Irish side St. Patrick’s Athletic instead.
His career was cut short due to a two year ban from football which he is currently serving. The suspension came due to failing to submit a sample collection which is deemed to be a doping violation. Miele was most likely to make it into the national team but we may never know if he would make it.
2016 – Sean Maguire – Cork City
Maguire is eligible to play for Ireland due to his parents but also England as he was born in Luton. He chose Ireland as he grew up there, starting his professional career with Waterford, and despite his young age, he was a first team regular by 2012. This earned him a move to West Ham United.
The move to West Ham was regarded as a poor choice as he never got to debut for them and the attacker was released in 2015. He eventually found first team football with Cork City in late 2015, becoming one of the league’s most lethal finishers and earning the PFAI Young Player of the Year award because of his outstanding goal scoring ability. He moved to Preston North End where he has consistently been one of their more consistent and reliable players
Maguire has made ten appearances for Ireland but due to competition in attack with players such as Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah being called up, it looks like Maguire’s days in the team are numbered.
2017 – Trevor Clarke – Shamrock Rovers
Playing for Middlesbrough during his youth career, Clarke can operate anywhere on the left, but his most comfortable position is left back. His time at Middlesbourgh was short as he was released and returned back to Ireland, moving to Shamrock Rovers.
He immediately stepped up to the first team and in his second season he made it into the PFAI Premier Division Team of the Year due to his solid performances while also picking up the PFAI Young Player of the Year award.
He currently plays for Rotherham United since 2019 but is not a regular starter. He also has yet to be capped by Ireland.
2018 – Jamie McGrath – Dundalk
McGrath has been playing first team football since he was 18-year-old at St. Patrick’s Athletic, winning their Young Player of the Season award in 2016 along with the League Cup.
This early success made Dundalk interested in his services and he joined them in 2017. Being able to play on both flanks, McGrath was one of the greatest threats in the league, often creating and scoring many chances with Dundalk. This talent was recognised by plenty in Ireland and he won the PFAI Young Player of the Year award.
He currently plays for Scottish Premiership side St Mirren where he is in the first team squad.
2019 – Daniel Mandroiu – Bohemians
The latest winner of the award is the attacking midfielder sensation Daniel Mandroiu. Formerly playing for Brighton & Hove Albion reserves in 2018, Mandroiu has been lightingtThe League of Ireland Premier Division on fire recently, with his magnificent performances for Bohemians.
He has been capped for the Ireland youth teams but not the senior team yet. There is no doubt he will be called up in the future.
Despite the talent that can be found in Ireland, on average, the last ten winners of PFAI Young Player of the Year award, were capped just four times by Ireland, showing that Ireland’s best talent may be found in England rather than Ireland.
Top Irish youngsters such as Troy Parrott, Michael Obafemi, Lee O’Connor and Aaron Connolly were produced in English academies.