Ireland's new striking wave give huge hope for the future
Garry Doyle looks at the bright future Ireland have in front of goal Ireland have announced their squad for the upcoming Euro 2024 qualifier against France with five young players, including 18-year-old Evan Ferguson, 21-year old Troy Parrott, 22-yearold Adam Idah and Michael Obafemi and relative veteran Chiedozie Ogbene. This is the first time Ireland has selected such a young group of forwards since 2002, when Robbie Keane and Damien Duff were selected to start against Russia. This current quintet shares 73 top-flight appearances between them, and it is a daunting responsibility especially when you think back to the blend of youth and experience that characterised Irish football through the decades. Despite this, there is still hope for the future, with Parrotto scoring four goals in 17 Ireland games and his late matchwinner against Lithuania suggesting there is a talent to take Ireland to another level.
Publicerad : 2 veckor sedan förbi Garry Doyle i Sports
It sounds more like the title of an Enid Blyton novel than a squad announcement as five go on a French adventure.
There’s 18-year-old Evan Ferguson, 21-year-old Troy Parrott, 22-year-olds Adam Idah and Michael Obafemi and relative veteran Chiedozie Ogbene, who had 25 candles on his most recent birthday cake.
Never before, in the history of Irish football, has so much been invested in so few caps.
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Between them Ferguson, Obafemi, Ogbene, Idah and Parrott have made 52 international appearances, yet when Kenny named his squad for the upcoming Euro 2024 qualifier against France on Thursday, these were the likely lads named in his strikeforce.
The last time an Irish manager selected such a young group of forwards for a qualifier as significant as this was in September 2002, when Mick McCarthy picked Robbie Keane and Damien Duff to start against Russia, with Gary Doherty and Clinton Morrison named in reserve.
At the time Duff and Morrison were 23, Doherty and Keane 22.
Yet this isn’t a like-for-like comparison. It is one thing to be young, another to be inexperienced and back in the autumn of 2002, Duff and Keane were each veterans of a World Cup.
As well as that both players had played more than 200 games in senior football by then, Keane setting a Premier League transfer record for a teenager when he moved from Wolves to Coventry for €7m before Inter Milan doubled that fee to get him across to Italy.
In contrast, this current quintet shares 73 top-flight appearances between them.
In a sense it is a daunting responsibility especially when you think back to the blend of youth and experience that characterised Irish football through the decades.
There was the Frank Stapleton/Mick Robinson combo under Eoin Hand; the Aldridge/Stapleton pairing at the start of the Charlton era which evolved into a mixture of Aldridge/Cascarino, Aldridge/Quinn as time moved along.
When Charlton was replaced by Mick McCarthy, Quinn and Cascarino babysat Keane through his early years as an international, Keane swiftly becoming the senior figure in the partnership as various players emerged, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Morrison, Doherty.
By the time Martin O’Neill was in charge, it was Long as the main guy, supported by Jon Walters. But the former was approaching 30 while the latter had surpassed it by the time they were offered the scoring responsibility.
McCarthy then returned for a second spell in charge and veteran David McGoldrick spearheaded his attack.
Now it is Kenny’s turn. McGoldrick has retired, Shane Long is no longer considered, while Callum Robinson (28) is injured and Will Keane (30) and Scott Hogan (30) are likely to miss out.
You could say it’s a risk, seeing how Ferguson has started only nine adult games in his career. But the bigger gamble would be not to play him, to judge him on his age, rather than his ability.
The same goes for Parrott, scorer of four goals in 17 Ireland games.
There’s a bit of ‘street’ about Parrott’s play, honed from a daily education on the north inner city’s roads, where the ball ran faster on the concrete surfaces, where it bounced unevenly off kerbs and drainpipes, where he learned how to find space quickly when facing older, more physical opponents.
Those lessons haven’t been lost as he’s stepped into the professional game, his late matchwinner against Lithuania and daring header against Scotland suggesting there’s a talent there that could take Ireland to another level.
Obafemi is also capable of getting people off their seats; that Parrott header stemming from his Pirlo-type pass prior to Obafemi’s later impersonation of Bobby Charlton in the same game.
Yet we’ve also seen the Burnley forward disappear from games; in fact we saw him disappear from the Swansea team sheet for prolonged periods, while Kenny’s faith in Idah has yet to be repaid.
Then there’s Ogbene, who has played well for Ireland but who has yet to play at a higher level than the Championship and who has also been used as a wing-back for lengthy periods.
The players Irish football needs to see
We could point to their flaws, Idah’s lack of goals from 13 caps, the fact Ferguson has only 14 minutes of international football on his CV, the fact Parrott has scored just twice for Preston this season, the fact Obafemi has struggled for starts this season, the fact Ogbene has scored just 11 goals in English football.
But the truth is that these are the players Irish football needs to see. This is the light at the end of the John Delaney tunnel.
While the recent past hasn’t been great, the more distant history chapters in O’Neill’s final year and McCarthy’s second spell weren’t much better.
Those teams were ageing, which wasn’t necessarily the fault of the respective managers, but nonetheless was a soul destroying experience for fans in the stands.
The nation has been in the market for a hero for some time, ever since Keane got old. Ferguson has emerged to grab hold of that baton with Parrott, Idah, Ogbene and Obafemi prepared to join the youth relay.
In more ways than one, we’re welcoming these green shoots as rest of the decade looks a lot brighter than was forecast a couple of years ago.
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