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5 Potential Irish Internationals You Should Keep An Eye Out For This Season

5 Potential Irish Internationals You Should Keep An Eye Out For This Season
By Gavin Cooney
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Ireland's Euro 2016 campaign was good for the soul, and yielded many positives, namely Wes Hoolahan's belated beguiling of the world stage and the emergence of Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady as potentially the Greatest Combination in World Football.*

But amid the many positive sat one glaring negative: Ireland's was the oldest squad at Euro 2016 - the repetition of a statistic from Euro 2012. It means that one of Martin O'Neill's main objectives in the World Cup qualifiers from next month onwards (apart from qualifying for the bloody thing) will be to lower the overall age of the squad. This process began before the Euros with the introduction of Callum O'Dowda, but that can't and won't be the end of the infusion of Irish youth.

Here are five of the youngsters yet to be capped at senior level for Ireland who may catapult themselves into contention through their performances next season.

Eoghan O'Connell - Celtic

For the short-to-medium future, O'Connell is doomed to be known as Paul O'Connell's cousin, but he may be discussed in his own terms should he fulfill his burgeoning potential. O'Connell is a 20-year-old centre-back currently getting a break at Celtic thanks to a combination of injuries to fellow defenders and Brendan Rodgers trust of youth.

O'Connell spent a portion of last season on loan at Cork City, a spell cut short through injury. Back at Celtic Park he has capitalised on first-team opportunites in pre-season (scoring this great goal in a 1-1 draw with Leicester City) and looks set to play in the Champions League qualifier against Astana tomorrow afternoon.

Rodgers lavished praise upon O'Connell today, saying that "he’s a good size, wants to do well and he’s good in the air. He has been around the first team for a few years and had some loan experience. We were up against tough opponent at the weekend and he coped very well. He has a real in-built brain for football, and he understands the game well".


O'Connell has picked up two under-21 international caps, so we hope a senior cap isn't too far around the corner.

Eoghan Stokes - Leeds United

Stokes is an alumnus of St Kevin's Boys - the club that produced Hendrick and Robbie Brady - and has starred in Leeds' youth teams, hitting a hot streak last season as a 19-year-old in Leeds' Under-21 team, ending the season as their top scorer with eight goals. A striker, his goals have given fans sufficient cause to champion his inclusion in the first-team, and he signed a new, one-year contract with the club last month and has been involved with Garry Monk's first team during pre-season.


A senior international call-up next season may come too soon for Stokes - he has yet to play at under-21 level, but his progress is certianly worth keeping an eye on next season.

Jack Byrne - Blackburn


Byrne is one of the brightest prospects in Irish football, and trained with the senior  international squad earlier this year. While he was not involved in the subsequent match-day squad, he impressed many with his swagger and absolute confidence he should be involved in the first team set-up.


Byrne spent last season on loan at Cambuur in Holland last season where he impressed, netting four goals in 27 appearances from midfield. Pep Guardiola's appointment at parent club Manchester City has seen Byrne move closer to Manchester for another loan move, this time to Blackburn. The move to Ewood Park is a fascinating one, with former Irish international/one-cap wonder Owen Columba Coyle (yep, that's his middle name) his boss.

A senior call-up is only a matter of months away.

Brian Lenihan - Hull 


This is a very important season for Brian Lenihan. At 22 he is still relatively young, although he has yet to put together a run of appearances in English football. Hull signed Lenihan from Cork City for £200,000 in August 2014, but the Irishman had to wait until April of this year to make his Hull debut following a torrid run of injuries. A dreadful spell thus far, but here's the rub. Hull are set for a tough season in the Premier League: they are currently managerless, and have must seven senior defenders, meaning there could be plenty of first-team opportunities for Lenihan in the months ahead.

Lenihan has yet to be capped at senior level: he was called up to the squad in October 2014, but wasn't capped.

Ian Lawlor - Manchester City 


A goalkeeper, Lawlor is another promising young Irishman on the books at Manchester City. Realistically, Lawlor will find first-team opportunities at City hard to come by this season, despite the fact that Joe Hart was flaunting his chocolate wrists with reckless abandon at Euro 2016.

A Home Farm graduate, Lawlor joined City in 2010. He rose to prominence earlier this year: on January 7 he joined Bury on loan, and within 48 hours had kept a clean sheet against Hull in the FA Cup. Lawlor returned to City for pre-season, where he was among the 'keepers named by Guardiola for a friendly against Bayern Munich last week. A loan spell may well follow, so its worth tracking Lawlor's progress throughout 2016/17.

Lawlor has been capped at under-19 and under-21 level for Ireland, and was called up to the senior squad in 2014, where he sat on the bench for friendlies with Costa Rica, Italy and Portugal.


*We're slightly biased.

See Also: An Unfulfilled Potential Irish XI - Where Are They Now?

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