When 17-year-old Conor Masterson sat on Liverpool's bench for the FA Cup tie against Exeter, it would have taken quite a few people by surprise. Fellow centre half Daniel Cleary had been involved in the Liverpool squad earlier this season and although it came about as a result of Liverpool's defensive crisis, Masterson's involvement with the first team squad was an indication that the future may not be as bleak as we have been assuming.
We've been as critical as anyone of the FAI's reliance on the English system to produce international standard Irish talent but the fact remains, that's still the most likely route for players who have what it takes to push through and carve out a professional career.
We'd dearly love if the League of Ireland was more of an option for young Irish players but, as things stand, moving to a Premier League academy at 16 is still the default position for the majority of the country's top talent. So with that in mind, we thought it only right to take a look at how things are panning out at the moment.
We've looked through the development squads of each of the Premier League clubs and picked out the Irish player to keep an eye on. The likes of Arsenal and Chelsea are largely devoid of Irish talent but elsewhere there are certainly players to be excited about over the next few years and if you feel we've missed out on anyone, feel free to let us know.
Arsenal - n/a
None whatsoever. In another world, Dan Crowley and Marcus Agyei-Tabi may be the most hyped Irish players out there at the moment but having appeared for Ireland at underage level they've both since switched allegiance to England. We'll swiftly move on.
Aston Villa - James Finnerty
When the Guardian asked fans from each Premier League club to decide the most exciting prospect in their academy it was a bit of a surprise to see three Irish internationals on the list of twenty players. Marcus Agyei-Tabi was one of those players so we can now cut that down to two but there's absolutely no doubt about the international allegiance of Aston Villa's entry.
An impressive centre back, 16-year-old Finnerty's inclusion in the Guardian's list was all the more impressive when you consider he only made the move to Birmingham in the summer. However, the sounds coming out of Villa are such that we're putting some ludicrously early hopes on the possibility that he could be the first ever Irish international from Co. Meath.
Bournemouth - Josh O'Hanlon
With Harry Arter and Eunan O'Kane firmly in Eddie Howe's midfield plans, Bournemouth are not short of some Irish influence. And although he may be back in Ireland at the moment, 20 year old Josh O'Hanlon continues that influence outside the first team.
Having impressed for Longford Town as early as 2013, the young striker made the move to Bournemouth in early 2014 having also been on trial at Man United. Since then, it's been a case of showing ability away from the Vitality Stadium as a number temporary moves have culminated in a move back to Longford on loan ahead of the 2016 Airtricity League season.
Chelsea - n/a
None. Patrick Bamford may have played for Ireland at u18 level but that ship has sailed long ago.
Crystal Palace - Kian Flanagan
The second Irish international on that list of the Guardian's most hyped Premier League kids, Kian Flanagan is certainly one to watch out for with transfer talk already coming from the likes of Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal. The only problem is that Flanagan is one who could be on the hook for an international tug of war in the near future.
He's played an scored for Ireland u17s as recently as September but the impressive attacking midfielder is on the radar of the England underage setup and it's no surprise when you consider how much of a buzz has been created around him already.
Everton - Steven Kinsella
There's plenty of Irish interest in the Everton first team and that continues through to the underage setup. Striker Sam Byrne and midfielder Harry Charsley have both made their mark for Everton u21s having represented Ireland youth teams at various levels.
17-year-old Steven Kinsella may have the most to offer however after Everton won the race to sign him back in January 2014. Since then the former Templeogue United winger has been impressing and, having represented Ireland u17 at just 15, hopes are high that he can kick on and join the likes of Seamus Coleman in the Everton first team.
Leicester - n/a
None. None whatsoever. Not even a former Irish international who now plays for England.
Liverpool - Conor Masterson
For all the Premier League's up-and-coming Irish talent, Liverpool may have the best crop to pick from. Daniel Cleary has been involved with the first team already while defender Corey Whelan and winger Alex O'Hanlon are with the U21 side. Goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher is registered at U18 level while highly rated attacker Glen McAuley is with the U16s.
Having said all that, we'll have to highlight Masterson's significant potential given the week that he's had. A dominant centre half with quite a bit of ability on the ball, Masterson has played further forward but he's really making a name for himself at Anfield as a centre back. He's become a key player in the U18 setup something which resulted in Jurgen Klopp turning to him to take a place on the bench at St James' Park last Friday.
Man City - Jack Byrne
While many players on this list will have quite a while to go before they become household names, the same can't really be said about Jack Byrne. He may not be there just yet but if he keeps going the way he has been, it certainly won't be too long before the Man City midfielder is making waves in the senior international ranks.
Currently on loan at Cambuur Leeuwarden in the Dutch Eredivisie, Byrne became Cambuur's youngest scorer in the top division at the age of 19 shortly before the Christmas break topping off a very impressive performance against Excelsior. An U21 international, thoughts have already turned to whether he may be able to make a late play for the Euro 2016 squad. That may be a stretch too far but there's no doubt that of all the players mentioned here, Byrne is the one that most hopes can be rested on.
Aside from Byrne, goalkeeper Ian Lawlor is the only other Irishman on City's books. He's not doing too badly either.
Man United - Jimmy Dunne
The only Irishman on the books of Man United, Louth 18-year-old Jimmy Dunne moved to Old Trafford in 2013 on a four-year contract. A tall centre back (there's a trend growing here), Dunne was part of the Man United academy in Belfast before he was offered the contract to move over to Manchester on his 16th birthday.
Dunne attracted interest from Aston Villa and Chelsea but there was only ever going to be one choice when United came through with the contract offer. Since then, things have not gone completely to plan for Dunne. A hip injury followed by an operation saw him miss the vast majority of the 2014-15 season but he's fit now and hoping to get back to the kind of form that piqued United's interest in the first place.
Newcastle - n/a
None. Rob Elliot hardly counts.
Norwich - n/a
None. Wes Hoolahan is definitely not a young prospect anymore and it's a bit past the time that we can call Robbie Brady a youngster.
Southampton - Thomas O'Connor
Southampton's academy has a pretty good reputation and if 16-year-old Thomas O'Connor can have half the career of the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain then he won't be doing too bad at all.
The sole Irish representative in the Saints' youth ranks, the former New Ross Celtic youngster has largely played for Ireland in defence but he's equally adept in central midfield and that's where he'll look to make his mark in the Saints u18 side this season after making the move to England in the summer.
Stoke - Shola Ayoola
Stoke have plenty of Irish talent filling up the first team squad and they're not doing too badly when it comes to the youth setup either. Bobby Moseley, Ryan O'Reilly and Mason Watkins-Clark are all part of the the U21 squad but we've chosen to highlight 16-year-old Shola Ayoola mainly for the fact that we haven't had the chance to look at too many strikers so far.
The former Cherry Orchard youngster made the move to Stoke this summer having represented Ireland at U16 level. He's been described as a 'strong, quick striker who loves to run in behind and also has the physical presence to trouble defenders.'
Sunderland - James Talbot
Perhaps it's the carryover effect of the Sundireland era of Quinn and Keane but there's a healthy dose of Irish youth making it's way through the youth teams on Wearside. Dan Casey, Jean-Yves Poame and Avis Ganiyu are all highly rated Irish youth internationals making their way in the club's youth u18 side but it's to the u21 setup that we'll look.
At 18, James Talbot's is the current FAI Schoolboy of the Year and with good reason. The Ireland U19 goalkeeper has moved up to become Sunderland's U21 side and with Jordan Pickford moving through to the first team there's every chance that Talbot will be able to establish himself at that level and hopefully push on from there.
Swansea - Ross Treacy
Another goalkeeper, the 17-year-old from Meath moved to Swansea this summer having made his debut for Ireland U17 back in August 2014. If Aston Villa's James Finnerty doesn't become the first Meathman to represent Ireland then perhaps Treacy could grab that accolade if he keeps going the way he is.
Irish midfielder Tom Holland is a teammate of Treacy in the Swansea U18 setup having moved to south Wales after he left Man City earlier in 2015.
Tottenham - Thomas McDermott
Perhaps the Irish goalkeeping situation is not so dour after all. The third goalkeeper in a row to get a mention here, Thomas McDermott (left above) is the only Irish representative at the Spurs academy.
The 17-year-old from Strabane had represented Northern Ireland at underage levels but made the move to the Republic youth setup ahead of the Euro U17 Youth Championship last summer. He made his debut for Spurs U18 on the last day of the 2014-15 season.
Watford - Tommie Hoban
Significantly more established than most of the players on this list, Hoban has been on the fringes of Watford's first team for a while now and with a bit more luck will surely make his full Ireland debut sooner rather than later.
He was a key player in Watford's promotion push last season and although he's been out of the first team picture so far this campaign, we'll be holding out hope that he can push on and become the versatile defensive rock that we've been expecting since he broke onto the scene a couple of years ago. Besides Hoban, Connor Smith and Sean Murray are the other Irish U21 internationals on the fringes of the Watford first team.
West Brom - Zachary Elbouzedi
One to really keep an eye on, the 17-year-old from Dublin has got a lot of people talking and for all the right reasons. Without a doubt one of the most skillful attacking midfielders to come out of Ireland in recent years, Elbouzedi was one of Ireland's best performers at last summers U17 European Championships in Bulgaria.
He's joined in the West Brom youth ranks by left back Robbie McCourt.
West Ham - Josh Cullen
Having already made his Premier League debut against Liverpool at the start of the season, Josh Cullen is easily one of the most exciting talents in the Irish underage system. The 19-year-old represented England at U16 level before switching to Ireland and making his way up through to the U21s.
Given the buzz around his performances for West Ham it's quite likely the Irish management will be doing everything they can to ensure the central midfielder sticks around for the foreseeable future. Outside Cullen, midfielders Declan Rice and Anthony Scully are part of West Ham's U18 setup.
It must be said that we can't expect all of those players to come through and represent Ireland at senior level. The reality of the situation is that quite a few of them may still fail to make it as professional footballers at any level but, having said that, it is reassuring to know that for all the faults of the Irish youth system, there is still quite a bit of talent to rely on in the coming years.