The top five talents on PFAI trip to Oslo

Christmas has come and gone and the New Year is well and truly under way. For League of Ireland fans, the countdown to the 2015 campaign is underway and with new signings, pre-season friendlies and of course the fixtures themselves being announced, great excitement is building among the domestic faithful.

However, spare a thought for those who give up their time to entertain us week after week and are currently without a club, I’m of course talking about the players.

The Professional Footballers Association of Ireland often receive a lot of stick on social media from followers of the domestic game and after some recent postings from a certain solicitor, it’s easy to see why. However, the PFAI deserve huge credit for the work they do in setting up the yearly camp for out of contract players.

This camp not only offers players a chance to train and keep fitness up while without an employer, but it also gives recently retired players the chance to break into coaching.

On Wednesday, the PFAI squad will set off to Oslo, Norway to take part in the annual FIFPRO winter tournament. The concept behind this competition is for players from the competing nations, made up this year of Ireland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, to put themselves in the shop window and earn a contract with a new club.

While critics will point to the fact that in recent years only Conor Powell has gained the attention of these overseas clubs, the fact is there are some quality players in the PFAI selection yet again this year and this tournament is sure to keep them in peak condition ahead of the new League of Ireland season in March.

Ahead of this year’s tournament, Kieran Burke decided to pinpoint the five top players in the PFAI squad and assess their chances of finding new clubs ahead of the big kick-off on March 6th.

Mick Leahy

Position: Defender
Age: 25
Last club: Limerick FC

Leahy is yet another graduate of the UCD conveyor belt, having made his debut for the ”Students” in 2009, Leahy went on to establish himself as a first choice member of Martin Russell’s back four at the Bowl prior to being appointed captain in 2011. Thirty appearances later and a comfortable eighth place finish, Leahy looked set for a big future within the domestic game.

However, two seasons later injuries began to take their toll and that was to be the story of the tale at Limerick also with just eight appearances to his name in 2014.

At the age of just 25, Leahy is yet to hit his prime and should the defender get a good pre-season under his belt and remain injury free, there is no reason the former UCD captain cannot return to that kind of form again.

Potential suitors: With the likes of Bray Wanderers and Drogheda United expected to be battling it out in the lower reaches of the Premier Division next season, perhaps the scouts at those clubs could do with taking a close look at Leahy in the coming weeks.

Craig Walsh

Position: Midfielder
Age: 22
Last club: Bohemians

For me, Craig Walsh has to be one of the most surprising players to see without a club this off-season. Having come to the attention of the footballing public through Sky’s ‘Football’s Next Star’ series, Walsh signed for Ireland’s biggest club, Shamrock Rovers in 2010.

However, after limited opportunities with the seventeen time league champions, Walsh was given the opportunity to go out on loan at then First Division club, Longford Town.

Under the stewardship of Rovers legend and Town boss, Tony Cousins, Walsh began to find his feet at League of Ireland level before making way in the starting eleven for a certain Keith Gillespie. Soon Walsh found himself in a familiar position of frustration as he sat on the bench and sometimes even in the stands for long periods.

This lead the young midfielder to depart the Midlands club for a spell with UCD where he quickly captured the attention of Premier Division followers. Two man of the match performances for the ”Students” against former club, Shamrock Rovers during the 2013 season put Walsh’s name back up in lights and it wasn’t long before Bohemians FC came calling.

Despite some impressive performances and 22 appearances for Owen Heary’s side, Walsh now finds himself struggling to find a club for the first time in his career so the Dublin native will be hoping this trip to Norway is more than just a short holiday.

Potential suitors: Give this young man game time and he will develop as a footballer, he’s proven that at Longford, UCD and Bohs. The best move for Walsh right now is a club willing to give him that chance to develop and with a lot of the Premier sides already packing out their midfield’s ahead of the new season, a drop down to the second tier may be required for ”Walshy” to reboot his career.

Ian Turner

Position: Midfielder
Age: 25
Last club: Cork City

Like Walsh, Turner is one of those players in this league that you simply can’t understand doesn’t have a club. Having come up through the youth ranks at Cork City, Turner made his ”Rebels” debut in 2010, while the club was playing under the Foras flag in the First Division, against Derry City.

Turner went onto make 29 appearances that season and would play a further 13 times during the league winning campaign of 2011.

Turner would up his appearance stats the following season as he made 24 appearances and scored three times in City’s first year back in the elite of Irish football with 24 appearances coming in 2013.

However, under John Caulfield, Turner only made two appearances for the eventual league runners-up of 2014, before going out on loan to Munster rivals, Limerick. Turner went on to impress during his stint at Thomond Park with two goals in 15 appearances, making it all the stranger this talented midfield player still finds himself without a contract anywhere.

Potential suitors: When on song, Turners passing qualities and ball retention abilities can prove crucial to any side so surely you would expect clubs in or around the mid-table region to be keeping close tabs on this former First Division winner.

Daryl Kavanagh

Position: Striker/Winger
Age: 28
Last club: Sligo Rovers

Looking for an eighth different League of Ireland club, ”Dil” Kavanagh is a man who may have to prove himself a little bit more than the rest during this trip to Oslo. One thing that has never been in question in regards to Daryl Kavanagh is his outright footballing ability and class, however, off the field issues and disciplinary problems have often dogged the 28-year-old’s career.

Kavanagh’s most recent club was of course, Sligo Rovers but after sustaining a calf injury, the striker was only able to make two appearances for the ”Westerners” and that has only gone further to blot his CV among League of Ireland clubs.

If interested party’s are to look for a shimmer of light when it comes to justifying the capture of Kavanagh they will point towards the positive impact he had upon his arrival at St.Pat’s in the summer of 2013 as he scored a crucial goal in the 2-0 defeat of Dundalk during the title run in which helped secure the ”Saints” first league championship in over a decade.

This was to be Kavanagh’s first and only League of Ireland medal as he left Buckley’s troops following just a single appearance for them in 2014. Potential yes, the mentality to be a team player, he proved it once at Pats but many former employees would say otherwise.

Potential suitors: Kavanagh is far from new to the whole FIFPRO experience having being named player of the tournament back in 2011, which earned him his first move to St.Patrick’s Athletic. Should ”Dil” be able to reproduce that magic again this year, there will be no shortage of top clubs looking to pin down one of the leagues most naturally gifted players, despite his shortcomings.

Jordan Keegan

Position: Attacking Midfielder
Age: 22
Last club: Shelbourne

Following the demise of Monaghan United in 2012, Keegan earned himself a move to English League One side, Scunthorpe United and despite only making three appearances in the English game prior to returning home, one should not be surprised if the midfield eventually earns a way back across channel as is the levels of his natural ability.

However, finding a club is the first challenge for this 22-year-old and perhaps the fact he hasn’t signed back with First Division Shelbourne, having been a key member last season, is a signal of intent from the former Southampton youngster.

Deployed in the number ten position by Johnny McDonnell last season, Keegan showed his class on a regular basis, often only being out shown by teenage sensation, Dylan Connolly for the ”Reds”. Four goals in 21 appearances for ”Shels” shows Keegan is ready and able to reproduce the class he showed in a struggling Monaghan United side under Roddy Collins, where week after week Keegan was the stand out performer and it lends the question, when will a big club take a punt on this exciting young talent.

Potential suitors: It would appear Keegan is on the look out for a Premier Division club and while it’s hard to pinpoint what clubs in the top flight may be in the need of such a player, there is no doubt given game time and freedom to play in his favoured role as a ten, Keegan could easily earn himself a move back across to English football.

The Author

Kieran Burke

While a fan and follower of football from all over the globe, Kieran Burke specialises in all things League of Ireland with opinionated pieces, big name interviews and match previews/reports his bread and butter. Check out his new website

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