It’s an exciting time for Irish football. Since Stephen Kenny has taken the helm, a raft of debutantes have broken into the side and some of the excellent young talent that the country is producing are making huge strides at international level.
What’s even more exciting is this is just the beginning and there is more and more players making the grade at club level and knocking on the door of a senior international call-up. Some are still in the U21s, while others have graduated and are showing their worth at club level. Either way, it’s a hell of a time to be an Irish player and here are 10 names who could be earning that coveted first cap at some stage in 2022.
Festy Ebosele (Derby County)
The 19-year-old Ireland U21 international has been in fine form recently, playing an integral part of Derby County’s rise from the depths of a points deduction towards safety. With 17 Championship appearances, mostly in a right sided role either further forward or deeper in midfield, Ebosele is catching the eye and could take an advantage of Ireland’s apparent lack of depth in the right back position, in addition to Matt Doherty’s club struggles and Seamus Coleman’s ageing limbs. Ebosele could be tailor made for the right-wing back role Stephen Kenny sometimes operates – a strong end to the season with Derby would definitely put him into consideration for a debut in 2022.
Conor Coventry (West Ham)
A seasoned U21 veteran, Coventry has been a hallmark of consistency and leadership when operating for Jim Crawford’s side, but strong club form has so far evaded him. A season-long loan at Peterborough was cut short by his parent club West Ham this month, where he is a regular for the U23 Premier League 2 side. Coventry may have a part to play at West Ham this season however, with a hectic schedule ahead and injuries and covid numbers mounting. His U21 experience should fare him well should Ireland come looking for depth in midfield and he looks very much in the mould of a future international who will give everything for the green shirt.
Evan Ferguson (Brighton)
Arguably the most exciting senior international in waiting, the 17-year-old has broken into Brighton’s matchday squad and his incredible PL2 form has everyone buzzing. The former Bohemians man struck eight times for Brighton’s U23s before getting called into the senior ranks over the hectic January period, coming on in the FA Cup and nearly grabbing a goal against West Brom. Ferguson is still awaiting his full Premier League debut, but that too seems a matter of time. He looks a fantastic player in the making and hugely for Ireland, with a natural instinct in front of goal, with great size and power to boot. A 2022 debut would cap a tremendous rise for the Meathman.
Gavin Kilkenny (Bournemouth)
Kilkenny flew out of the traps with Bournemouth this season but injuries and rotation have slowed things down a tad. Despite that, the 21-year-old is an inevitable Ireland senior player and he’s almost a tad unlucky he didn’t come into play earlier on in the season with at least a call-up to the camp. Bournemouth are second in the Championship and promotion to the Premier League would be a massive feather in his cap, especially if he can stay in manager Scott Parker’s plans.
Liam Scales (Celtic)
The former UCD and Shamrock Rovers full back had to remain patient when he arrived at Celtic Park, but 90 minutes in the Europa League in addition to a recent run in the Scottish Premier League has seen him show plenty of quality and looks very much capable of entering the conversation for Ireland. Scales has already been involved in a few camps and his progression to matchday squads seems inevitable, especially with James McClean moving on in years and Ryan Manning struggling to break into the starting eleven.
Danny McNamara (Milwall)
The 23-year-old has been in fine form for Milwall this season, including an eye-catching display in the FA Cup against Crystal Palace. McNamara has 15 Championship appearances, primarily in the right back position and similarly to Ebosele, could take advantage of the lack of depth that was following the likes of Coleman, Doherty and Cyrus Christie. The Sidcup-born defender has had a couple of loan spells elsewhere, but looks to have found strong form at the Den and could become Ireland’s next Milwall based international.
Zak Elbouzedi (AIK)
The 23-year-old winger headed to Sweden following a difficult spell at Lincoln City, whom he had departed Waterford for. The tricky wideman had a pretty decent half-season at AIK, finishing second in the Allsvenskan and only on goal difference. Although Libya would love to seal his international football status, Elbouzedi is more than capable of breaking into the Irish senior side and playing at a title challenging club like AIK, along with suiting the style of wide attacking play that Kenny likes to infer, it should be very much on the cards. He’s played under Kenny previously with the U21s and should his Swedish stint continue, it shouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to see him deputize for Ireland in 2022.
Jack Taylor (Peterborough)
Another player knocking on the door of a full Ireland appearance, but limited by the strength in numbers at the midfield position. The 23-year-old has made 21 appearances for Peterborough this season, 17 of which he has started, and his form probably merits serious consideration for inclusion in an Ireland camp. He’s knocked on the door already but given the depth at the position and those he’s competing with, he hasn’t been able to break into a matchday squad as of yet. Peterborough’s struggles mightn’t do him much good, but if they can stay up then Taylor is one of few centre midfield options playing 90 minutes on a weekly basis.
Jimmy Dunne (QPR)
It may be a surprise that the 24-year-old former Burnley defender hasn’t yet made an Irish side, but the Drogheda man is still awaiting a call-up. Although he has plenty of competition for places with the likes of Nathan Collins and Andrew Omobamidele recently breaking into the side to compete with the more established heads, Dunne has progressed massively since leaving Burnley and has helped QPR to play-off and promotion consideration this season, where they currently sit in fourth place. He’s played 23 times this season and shouldn’t be too far down the pecking order, but might require a few things to align in his favour for him to get the call in 2022, but he’s definitely in the conversation.
Armstrong Oko-Flex (West Ham)
The 19-year-old Dublin-born attacker has been through the doors of Arsenal and Celtic in his young career, but it’s at West Ham where he could emerge as a senior footballer and give Stephen Kenny some food for thought. A regular in their U23 side where he has 11 goals this season, Oko-Flex has been an unused substitute in each of West Ham’s last four Premier League games. Although he waits patiently for a full debut, it’s another great sign that Ireland have some exciting young attackers knocking on the door at Premier League clubs. 2022 may be too soon for Oko-Flex, but he is very much on the right road.