Football

The 9 Irish Players With Most To Gain Over The Rest Of The Season

The 9 Irish Players With Most To Gain Over The Rest Of The Season

Football may only be back from its three month hiatus, but we are already looking forward to the return of the international game in September.

Stephen Kenny will take charge of the senior Irish team for the first time in a game in Bulgaria on September 3rd, with a home fixture against Finland to follow a few days later. It will be interesting to see how many changes he makes in comparison to Mick McCarthy's favoured side, but there are a number of Irish players who could put their hands up for selection in the coming weeks.

Looking across the English divisions, there are a number of Irishmen who have plenty to play for over the coming weeks. Here's nine players with the most at stake.

Michael Obafemi - Southampton

After going through a very unlucky spell with injuries over the past 18 months or so, Michael Obafemi is finally getting a sustained run in the Southampton team. He has put in some very impressive performances too, not least in the 3-0 win over Norwich City, a game where he registered an assist.

Obafemi seems to have moved above Che Adams in the striking pecking order at St Mary's and a continued run of good form could put him firmly at the forefront of Raplh Hasenhuttl's plans for next season.

There is also the small matter of international football to consider. Stephen Kenny is sure to give some younger players an opportunity to impress during the games against Bulgaria and Finland in September, with Obafemi one of those most likely to benefit. If he is in good form over the remainder of the season, he could easily end up as a first choice player for Ireland come the end of the year.

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Darragh Lenihan - Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn Rovers' promotion hopes suffered a blow at the weekend in their loss to Wigan, but they are still very much in the play-off hunt. Darragh Lenihan has been one of their best performers all season, putting in some brilliant displays at the back.

He has also sported the captain's armband on a number of occasions. Speaking to Balls just before the lockdown earlier this year, he admitted that he had Premier League aspirations.

He could yet meet those at Blackburn, but Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder is also believed to be very keen on his signature. The coming weeks could define his career going forward, be it at Ewood Park or elsewhere.

Alan Browne & Sean Maguire - Preston North End

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Preston entered last weekend in sixth place in the Championship table, but a 3-0 loss to Cardiff City saw the Welsh side move three points above their play-off rivals. That could end up being a killer blow, but Sean Maguire and Alan Browne will play a key role as they attempt to get back into the top six.

Both players are also nearing the end of the their contracts. Alan Browne got a new agent earlier this year, often an indication that a player is looking to move on from their current club. He would have no shortage of interested parties should decide to leave Preston, but the club will be hoping they can convince him to stay with a Premier League push in the coming weeks.

Matt Doherty - Wolves

It's been too long since we had an Irishman tearing it up in the Champions League. Matt Doherty has a genuine shot at playing in Europe's premier club competition next season, with Wolves currently sitting in fifth place in the league and displaying some very strong form recently.

Fifth place could be enough to qualify depending on the outcome of Manchester City's appeal against their European ban, but Wolves will look to make a push into the top four. We would love to see what Doherty could do against some of the biggest teams in Europe, while he will also be eyeing a Europa League winners medal in the coming months.

Ronan Curtis - Portsmouth

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Regardless of the outcome of the League One play-offs, you would imagine it is unlikely that Ronan Curtis will be playing in the English third tier next season. He will be looking to achieve promotion with Portsmouth over the next ten days, but even that might not be enough to keep him at Fratton Park.

Having shown some very strong form this season, he has been heavily linked with a move to the likes of Blackburn Rovers. The Ireland international also has only 12 months remaining on his current deal.

Despite speculation surrounding his future, he will no doubt be fully concentrated on the upcoming games against Oxford United.

Jason Knight - Derby County

Jason Knight is very highly rated at Derby County, not least by Wayne Rooney. Speaking late last year, the former England captain said the Irishman reminded him of himself as a young player.

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His energy, his attitude. He almost reminds me of myself when I was younger in terms of no fear.

And he's got an aggression about him, not in terms of how he's tackling, but in terms of how he runs, how he gets about the pitch.

Derby are in the midst of an unlikely play-off push after a poor start to the season, now sitting only three points outside the top six. They have a very tough run of fixtures coming up, including games against six of the current top seven teams.

However, a good set of results over the course of those fixtures would likely catapult them into the play-offs as a result. Knight is likely to play a key part in that and could well find himself in the Premier League next season as a result.

Aaron Connolly - Brighton

After seeing his progress at Brighton stall somewhat prior to the season being suspended, Aaron Connolly has been in excellent form since football's return. His assist for Neal Maupay's winner against Arsenal was a cracker and the Galway man has looked very sharp.

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His first priority will be ensuring that Brighton remain in the Premier League, but Connolly no doubt has international football on his mind. He thrived at U21 level under Stephen Kenny's management, meaning he could be set to play a key part in October's play-off against Slovakia.

A strong finish to the season would only strengthen that claim.

Callum Robinson - West Brom

Callum Robinson was rejuvenated after his loan move to West Brom in January, displaying the type of form that had deserted him before Christmas at Sheffield United.

They look primed to secure promotion back to the Premier League next season. While they would no doubt love to make his move a permanent one, Chris Wilder previously insisted that the Irishman was part of his plans going forward.

Either way, Robinson attempt to ensure he is playing in the Premier League next season by putting in another string of excellent performances in the coming weeks.

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Gary Connaughton

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