Young Irish starlets leading the line for new generation

Many up-and-coming talents from the Republic of Ireland have shined for various clubs across the pond this season.

Some of Jim Crawford’s conveyor belt have made a stamp on clubs throughout the four divisions in England. Here are some of the players to have caught the eye this campaign.

Evan Ferguson

The Meath man started the season on the fringes of the Brighton and Hove Albion side this term and has quickly made the transition into first team proceedings. Ferguson has always possessed a capability to play at the highest level. Early promise in the season such as netting in the Seagulls first round League Cup victory over League One basement boys Forest Green Rovers caught the eye of Stephen Kenny who drafted the Bettystown hopeful into the Republic of Ireland senior squad.

Small cameos over Malta and Norway respectively were just a taste of things to come for Ferguson. The 18-year-old burst onto the scene with a goal against Premier League leaders Arsenal and followed that first league goal with another major and assist over Everton. That vein of form under Roberto De Zerbi, solidified Ferguson’s starting place in the side. Ferguson led the line against Liverpool and Leicester City thereafter and notched a stunning brace in the FA Cup quarter-final win over Grimsby Town as the seaside club continue their fairy-tale campaign.

In total, Ferguson has chipped in with 4 goals in 13 topflight appearances. The front man also has three goals to his name in the FA Cup, with a semi- final tie with Manchester United on the horizon this coming weekend. On the international stage, the breakout season for the former Bohemians man has seen him bag against Latvia last month and lead the line for his country when taking on World Cup runners up France.

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Tom Cannon

The on-loan Preston North End striker has been in tremendous form since making the switch from Goodison Park. The Republic of Ireland under-21 man started the season with the Everton youth side where he continued to score in Premier League. Seven goals in 11 appearances for the young Toffees saw him make the step-up for the senior side and contribute two Premier League cameos.

The move to Deepdale, is where Cannon has really started to show his true potential. It took time to get settled and Cannon failed to find the back of the net in his first six second tier games. However, since the turn of February Cannon has gone on a goalscoring run, finding the net seven times in the past ten games, including a deadly brace over QPR over the Easter weekend.

Those goals have kept Preston’s push for the playoffs intact and the Whites remain just one point off sixth place Blackburn Rovers with just four games of the regular season to go. If Cannon can continue to fire, he could be the cutting edge to bring the Lancashire outfit to the Premier League.

Andy Lyons

The former Shamrock Rovers fledgling has a brilliant campaign on both sides of the water. Starting the season under Stephen Bradley, the flying full back, who can operate on both flanks, caught the attention of various clubs. Anytime a defender contributes seven goals in any division, vultures will circle. The form of the 22-year-old Naas resident was also a key factor in Rovers remarkable run to the Europa Conference League group stages.

Championship strugglers Blackpool were the ones who plucked Lyons away from Tallaght Stadium. A reported £300,000 figure was agreed, and he joined the Tangerines on a three-year contract. The young star has been outstanding for Blackpool, taking to the hard-hitting Championship football like a duck to water. Lyons has started most games since arriving in January and notched his first goal against Huddersfield Town back in February.

Lyons continued his goalscoring exploits with an impressive brace over Gareth Ainsworth’s London strugglers QPR last month in a 6-1 drubbing. Another major was struck over Luton Town on Easter Monday and he put in yet another outstanding display on the right to help Blackpool to a clean sheet and vital three points over Wigan at Bloomfield Road.

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Will Smallbone

The Stoke City playmaker has really stepped up to the plate this campaign. Deemed surplus to requirements by Southampton, the Boys in Green midfielder was farmed out to the bet365 Stadium. Smallbone had been in and out of the Saints side since making his breakthrough in the 2016/2017 season. Stoke is where he has flourished.

The 23-year-old general has had a respectable contribution of three goals and four assists in 39 appearances for the Potters this term. In many of those games, he has been singled out for special mention by manager Alex Neil. Neil has on many occasions stated that Smallbone is ‘an unbelievable talent’.

Those hidden talents of Smallbone have also caught the eye of Stephen Kenny who has drafted the on-loan man into the Irish set up. An impressive debut against Latvia saw Smallbone tee up Callum O’Dowda for a goal in the 3-2 win at the Aviva Stadium last month. Three goals in seven games for Jim Crawford’s under 21s this season has also demonstrated the clinical edge to Smallbone’s game. Surely with Southampton edging closer to the Premier League trapdoor, he will be a permanent fixture for the St. Mary’s club.

Daniel Mandroiu

The Dubliner has been in superb form for Lincoln City. While, the Imps have attained safety and sit mid-table in League One, Mandroiu has been one of the leading lights. Managed by fellow Irish man Mark Kennedy, the former Shamrock Rovers star has been taking the third tier by storm. A healthy return of 6 goals and 4 assists in 23 appearances for the forward has been an excellent fitting in a tough division.

2023 has really been fruitful for Mandroiu with four of those six majors finding the back of the net this year. If Mandroiu can continue some of this sparkling form until the end of the campaign, he will certainly be in with a shout of making Stephen Kenny give him a call up to the senior squad.

The Author

Jonathan Burke

Mayo Resident, Blackpool supporter

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