Football

After Decade Of Decline, Things Are Finally Looking Up For Irish In Premier League

After Decade Of Decline, Things Are Finally Looking Up For Irish In Premier League

With the Premier League getting back underway at the weekend, we were keen to see how many Irish internationals would feature. The amount of Irish players in the Premier League has been on a steady decline over the past decade, culminating with only eight players featuring on the opening day of last season, and one of those was the since Anglicised Declan Rice.

This is a stark contrast to the numbers at the start of the decade, with 22 Irishmen featuring on the opening day of the 2012/13 season.

As the Premier League continues to become a more globalised and diverse league, the opportunities offered to Irish players continue to decrease. Whereas the league was once populated almost entirely by players from Britain and Ireland, those players are now in the minority.

Only 11 players from outside those nations featured on the opening weekend of the Premier League in 1992, something that is almost unimaginable in modern terms. The worst part is, this dynamic is only likely to become more pronounced in the coming years.

Still, the opening weekend of this season did offer some encouragement. After the all time low of last season, there was the slightest of increases this time around. Nine Irish players featured, and that number is actually a bit lower than you would expect.

Of the players who didn't feature, Robbie Brady was ruled out via injury, while Jeff Hendrick had just returned from a short spell on the sidelines. James McCarthy should also become a regular for Crystal Palace after his move from Everton.

The age profile of the players has also lowered. The likes of Callum Robinson and Michael Obafemi are still in the early stages of their careers, something that could not really be said in recent years. That is not to mention the exciting youth prospects, such as Troy Parrott and Adam Idah, that have not yet featured.

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With those replacing ageing players such as Jonathan Walters and Stephen Ward, things finally look like they are improving after a decade of decline.

2019/20 Opening day: 9 players featured

  • Seamus Coleman
  • Michael Obafemi
  • Shane Duffy
  • Callum Robinson
  • David McGoldrick
  • John Egan
  • Enda Stevens
  • Matt Doherty
  • Conor Hourihane

James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, Kevin Long, Ciaran Clark were unused substitutes.

Here's how those numbers compare to seasons gone by. We have listed  n detail each season of this decade, as well as the numbers every year from 1995/96 onwards, when the Premier League was reduced to 20 teams.

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2018/19 Opening day: 8 players featured

  • Jeff Hendrick
  • Stephen Ward
  • Declan Rice
  • Ciaran Clark
  • Cyrus Christie
  • Shane Duffy
  • Matt Doherty
  • Seamus Coleman

Jonathan Walters and Greg Cunningham were unused subs.

2017/18 Opening day: 10 players featured

  • Shane Duffy
  • James McClean
  • Harry Arter
  • Stephen Ward
  • Robbie Brady
  • Declan Rice
  • Rob Eliot
  • Ciaran Clark
  • Jonathan Walters
  • Jeff Hendrick

Shane Long and Kevin Long were unused subs.

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2016/17 Opening day: 11 players featured

  • John O'Shea
  • Shane Long
  • Shay Given
  • Glenn Whelan
  • Jonathan Walters
  • James McCarthy
  • Damien Delaney
  • James McClean
  • Stephen Ward
  • David Meyler
  • Harry Arter

Darren Randolph was an unused sub.

2015/16 Opening day: 11 players featured

  • Damien Delaney
  • Robbie Brady
  • Wes Hoolahan
  • Seamus Coleman
  • James McCarthy
  • Ciaran Clark
  • Eunan O'Kane
  • James McClean
  • Shane Long
  • Glenn Whelan
  • Jonathan Walters

John O'Shea was an unused sub.

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2014/15 Opening day: 14 players featured

  • Damien Delaney
  • Joey O'Brien
  • John O'Shea
  • Marc Wilson
  • Glenn Whelan
  • Stephen Ireland
  • Richard Dunne
  • Alex Bruce
  • David Meyler
  • Paul McShane
  • Stephen Quinn
  • Aiden McGeady
  • Seamus Coleman
  • James McCarthy

Paddy McCarthy, Jonathan Walters, Ciaran Clark, Shay Given, Brian Murphy, Robbie Brady, Rob Eliot & Kevin Long were all unused subs.

2013/14 Opening day: 13 players featured

  • Joey O'Brien
  • Shane Long
  • John O'Shea
  • Damien Duff
  • Seamus Coleman
  • Wes Hoolahan
  • Ciaran Clark
  • Glenn Whelan
  • Marc Wilson
  • Jonathan Walters
  • Robbie Brady
  • David Meyler
  • Damien Delaney

Alex Bruce and Paul McShane were unused subs.

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2012/13 Opening day: 22 Irish players featured

  • Joey O'Brien
  • Shay Given
  • Ciaran Clark
  • Stephen Ireland
  • Steven Reid
  • Shane Long
  • Alex Pearce
  • Ian Harte
  • Noel Hunt
  • Rory Delap
  • Jonathon Walters
  • Marc Wilson
  • Glenn Whelan
  • Damien Duff
  • Anthony Pilkington
  • Wes Hoolahan
  • David Meyler
  • Seamus Coleman
  • Darron Gibson
  • James McCarthy
  • John O'Shea
  • James McClean

Kieren Westwood, Stephen Kelly, Brian Murphy, Graham Burke and Stephen Henderson were all unused subs.

2011/12 Opening day: 19 players featured

  • Leon Best
  • Connor Sammon
  • James McCarthy
  • Wes Hoolahan
  • Anthony Pilkington
  • Damien Duff
  • Shay Given
  • Richard Dunne
  • Ciaran Clark
  • Kevin Foley
  • Stephen Ward
  • Stephen Hunt
  • Kevin Doyle
  • Steven Reid
  • Shane Long
  • Simon Cox
  • Marc Wilson
  • Rory Delap
  • Glenn Whelan

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Brian Murphy, Kieren Westwood, Stephen Kelly and Stephen Ireland were unused subs.

2010/11 Opening day: 13 players featured

  • Simon Cox
  • Rory Delap
  • Glenn Whelan
  • Andy Keogh
  • James McCarthy
  • Stephen Carr
  • Keith Fahey
  • Damien Duff
  • Stephen Kelly
  • Ciaran Clark
  • Richard Dunne
  • Robbie Keane
  • John O'Shea

Shay Given, Steven Reid, Keith Andrews and Andy O'Brien were unused subs.

Here is a table of all the Irish players to feature on the opening day starting from when the Premier League first became a 20 team league in the 1995/96 season:

1995/96: 12
1996/97: 14
1997/98: 13
1998/99: 11
1999/2000: 14
2000/01: 18
2001/02: 14
2002/03: 19
2003/04: 15
2004/05: 14
2005/06: 16
2006/07: 17
2007/08: 17
2008/09: 15
2009/10: 19
2010/11: 13
2011/12: 19
2012/13: 22
2013/14: 13
2014/15: 14
2015/16: 11
2016/17: 11
2017/18: 10
2018/19: 8
2019/20: 9

There was a slight increase this year, but much of that can be put down to Sheffield United's promotion. Four Irish player started their game against Bournemouth, and without that quarter the figures would be quite bleak.

Still, hopefully this lull does not last too much longer. There are a number of talented Irish youngsters making waves at Premier League clubs, some of whom could make a first team breakthrough as soon as this season. That is without even mentioning the successes of our U19 and U21 teams this summer.

The age profile of the players involved is also bit lower than last season, with 19-year old Michael Obafemi a terrific prospect. Callum Robinson also looks very promising at 24-years old, while all our other internationals performed well on the opening weekend.

Considering all of this, it could be said Irish football is on the rise for the first time in what feels like an eternity.

SEE ALSO: Irish Player Ratings: Quartet Star For Sheffield United As Obafemi Returns

Gary Connaughton

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