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Any Irish grannies out there? Our national conveyor belt of Premier League-quality footballers has dried up

Blogger Amy Eustace on how the Irish national side has turned her into a pessimist searching for long-lost relatives, in the hope of finding Messi's great grand-parents hail from Westmeath

by Amy Eustace | September 5, 2014

I was an optimist, once, especially when it came to Ireland. My hopes and dreams let out their last anguished sob when I was perched in the upper tiers of the Stadion Miejski, Poznan, watching Ireland’s Euro 2012 chances undermined quicker than Apple’s iCloud security.

My pessimism (or realism, depending on where you’re standing) means I’m irresistibly drawn to facts like the following:

  • Only one FIFA ranking separates Ireland, once ranked the eighth-best team in the world, and Wednesday’s friendly opponents Oman, who have never qualified.
  • Ireland was the second best represented nationality with 36 players in the Premier League in 2011/12. That number is down 50 per cent to 18 this season.
  • Cillian Sheridan is the only Irish player in the Champions League this season. His Cypriot club APOEL Nicosia have been drawn with Barcelona, PSG and Ajax, so don’t expect that to last very long.

Cillian-Sheridan

  • Can Ireland kick-start their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a win over Georgia? Desktop | Mobile

Football mad but void of options

Ireland may have beaten Oman, thanks to goals from Crystal Palace loan signing Kevin Doyle and Reading’s Alex Pearce, but this weekend attentions will turn to a Euro qualification campaign that fans can only hope helps ease the pain of Ireland’s last dismal finals showing.

It just so happens to be arguably the worst period for Irish footballing talent in recent history. We haven’t seen austerity like this since the Potato Famine. The Golden Generation of 2002’s World Cup, many of whom played out their last major tournament in 2012’s disastrous Poland group stage, are almost a distant memory.

“I think everyone seems frightened to death in the media,” said Ireland’s megalomaniac midfielder turned mild-mannered assistant manager, Roy Keane, ahead of Sunday’s opening qualifying game against Georgia.

He’s absolutely right. But what he suggested was a lack of faith in the new management team is moreover a lack of faith in their limited call-up options. Where Giovanni Trapattoni flagrantly ignored a comparative wealth of in-form Irish players right under his nose, his successors must leave no stone unturned to find some spring of talent.

Roy-Keane-Media

  • Keane on an Ireland victory? The latest odds are just a click away: Desktop | Mobile

Calling all long-lost relatives from Cork to Dundalk…

Boss Martin O’Neill has a tougher job than most Ireland managers before him. Richard Dunne hung up his international boots this summer, joining Damien Duff who left soon after the last Euro campaign. There are increasingly fewer worthwhile options available to replace them.

O’Neill coaxed one golden oldie, Shay Given, out of international retirement. However, with Given currently bench warming for Aston Villa, he doesn’t exactly add much to a squad full of has-beens and never-weres.

The pickings are so slim that even Mark Noble is in with a chance, should he choose to avail of his Irish heritage. England’s rejects abound in Irish football history, and he’d be availing of the same granny rule that saw Tony Cascarino become a part of Boys in Green legend on the back of his mother’s Irish adoptive father.

To call it tenuous would be an understatement. Nonetheless, beggars can’t be choosers.

Tony-Cascarino

  • Get the latest odds for all this weekend’s internationals right here: Desktop | Mobile

Super Seamus

Simply put, while Ireland remains a soccer-mad nation (despite competition from Gaelic games and rugby) the conveyor belt of Premier League-quality footballers has all but dried up.

Fewer Irish teenagers are succeeding in moves abroad, falling behind a trend of starting British kids in Premier League and Championship academies at increasingly young ages. Meanwhile, succeeding in the League of Ireland rarely seems to translate into a transfer and subsequent top-flight success in England.

All is not entirely lost. O’Neill has arguably the Premier League’s best right-back and ex-Sligo Rovers man, Seamus Coleman, at his disposal.  He and his Everton teammates (Aiden McGeady, James McCarthy and Darron Gibson, fresh from a knee injury) are almost single-handedly keeping the Irish reputation alive in the English top tier under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez.

Seamus-Coleamn-MON

Georgia are beatable. Germany? Maybe not…

Roy Keane has also expressed hope that Aston Villa’s 18-year-old midfielder Jack Grealish will opt for a senior career with Ireland. Grealish is also attracting interest from England, but Keane is optimistic that the teen, who is currently with Noel King’s U21 side in Germany, will stick with the Boys in Green.

“We know we haven’t got a massive group of players to pick from,“ said the Corkman, “so if he comes on board, it would be absolutely fantastic because I think he has got a chance of being a good player.”

The Oman game was a poor indicator of what to expect when Ireland play their first qualifier in Tbilisi on Sunday, given that O’Neill is likely to make wholesale changes to Wednesday’s starting XI.

Ireland (5/4) should easily dispatch Georgia, even if the squad ain’t what it used to be. But Germany, who Ireland will face in Gelsenkirchen next month, are an altogether more frightening opponent. Irish captain Keane has claimed that the Germans are a tall order, but not unbeatable, and that somewhat courageous sentiment was inconclusively backed up by Argentina’s 4-2 friendly win in Dusseldorf this week.

For now, Ireland must make the best of a poor harvest. Perhaps in two years’ time O’Neill and Keane’s scouting situation could look decidedly less dire. I mean, who knows what Irish grannies could come out of the woodwork between now and then?

  • Can Ireland kick-start their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a win over Georgia? Desktop | Mobile

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