With the usual supply chain from England creaking, the Ireland talent pool is shallow
The rise to prominence of Meath teenager Evan Ferguson after his first Premier League goal for Brighton at Everton last Tuesday has offered a welcome boost to Stephen Kenny’s plans ahead of a defining few months in his reign as Ireland boss.
The return to form of Matt Doherty at Tottenham and regular game time for Gavin Bazunu at Southampton and Nathan Collins at Wolves have added to the options ahead of the Euro 2024 qualifier against France in Dublin in March.
Yet amid the fleeting shoots of optimism, a glance through the FA Cup team-sheets last weekend confirmed that the presence of Irish players in English football is at an all-time low.
The trouble for Kenny must be that relying on players who are struggling to get regular football in the second of third tier of the English game may not be enough to get Ireland back to winning ways in 2023.
Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann are among the superstars likely to be on the France team-sheet for the Dublin qualifier that rolls around in just 78 days time.
Kenny could only dream of such riches to select from, with the optimism around the next generation of stars when he took over as Ireland senior boss now a distant dream.
Jayson Molumby was hailed as a potential leader of Kenny’s new-look band, but he has struggled to find consistency in West Bromwich Albion colours.
Then there is the story of Tottenham’s Troy Parrott, who scored just once during a loan spell at Preston in the Championship until injury halted his progress in October.
What of Adam Idah, who captured plenty of headline three years ago when he fired a stunning FA Cup third round hat-trick for Norwich at Preston and backed that up with a full Premier League debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford a week later?
The hope was that Idah would kick on from that breakthrough month, but he has made just 40 appearances for Norwich since January 2020 and the last 12 months has been derailed by a knee problem that halted his progress.
“It has been difficult for me but I think that’s part of football. You do get injuries here and there,” said 21-year-old Idah, who scored in his final game of 2022 to raise hopes of a brighter future.
“Now I feel quite fit. I’ve done a lot of work in my rehab coming back. The first time I came back I probably wasn’t right.
“This is my first long-term injury but I think I have to just put it to the back of my head now and focus on playing.”
Goals will be the currency Kenny’s needs to trade in if he is to defy the odds and guide Ireland through to the Euro 2024 finals in a qualifying group featuring France and the Netherlands.
Yet one of his potential candidates to lead the line continues to see his career spiral out of control, with Aaron Connolly looking for another restart to his career by sealing a move to Hull.
Galway-born Connolly is surplus to requirements at Brighton, but his loan spells with Middlesbrough and Italian club Venezia have done little to boost his flagging reputation.
Hull boss Liam Rosenior is keen to offer Connolly an olive branch and with his 23rd birthday looming large, the striker needs to take it.
“He’s someone I have known since he was 16-years-old. I know how he ticks,” said Hull boss Rosenior.
“I know how he works and I can’t wait to get to work with him.
“It can happen, players go through good periods in their careers and they go through difficult periods in their careers but their quality is never in doubt.
“Hopefully we see the best of Aaron Connolly because if we do, then he’s going to be a real threat in this league.”
Roll the clock back a few years and it was Connolly who was banging goals in for Brighton and offering hope that he could be answer to Ireland’s scoring woes.
Now Kenny will be hoping Evan Ferguson’s Brighton story has a different ending.
Ireland’s future might depend on it.
IRELAND STARTING LINE-UP ON CURRENT FORM
Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool) Enda Stevens (Sheffield United) John Egan (Sheffield United) Nathan Collins (Wolves) Matt Doherty (Tottenham) Josh Cullen (Burnley) Alan Browne (Preston) Jason Knight (Derby) Jayson Molumby (WBA) Callum Robinson (Cardiff) Evan Ferguson (Brighton)