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The Irish signings we're looking forward to seeing in the Championship this season

English football’s second tier gets underway tonight.

THE CHAMPIONSHIP RETURNS tonight and, as usual, there will be plenty of Irish interest.

English football’s second tier begins with relegated Sunderland hosting Derby County at the Stadium of Light, while newly-promoted Millwall are also away to Nottingham Forest this evening.

Fans on this side of the water will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on the fortunes of Preston North End due to the fact that they currently have seven Irish players on their books — including two of their recruits from the League of Ireland.

Elsewhere, Glenn Whelan has joined Aston Villa, who already have Conor Hourihane in their midfield, while Daryl Murphy links up with goalkeeper Stephen Henderson at Nottingham Forest.

Here are the summer signings we will be paying closest attention to:

Sean Maguire (Cork City to Preston North End)

The Kilkenny-born striker proved himself as the League of Ireland’s finest goalscorer over the past two years, which has earned him the move to Preston.

Sean Maguire says goodbye to fans after the game Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Former West Ham academy player Maguire has already hit the ground running with his new club — scoring a debut goal. It will be interesting to see if he can make the step up immediately, especially as the manager who signed him, Simon Grayson, has left for Sunderland.

If he continues the kind of form that saw him worshipped by Cork City supporters, surely an international call-up will follow.

Kevin O’Connor (Cork City to Preston North End)

Joining Maguire is Cork City team-mate Kevin O’Connor. The full-back has been excellent in the Leesiders’ backline in recent seasons, having joined from Waterford in 2015.

Kevin O'Connor Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With fellow Irishman and club captain Greg Cunningham occupying the left-back position, it may take time for 22-year-old O’Connor to break through and he will have to be patient.

But the Wexford man has all the attributes to be a success and this is a golden opportunity for him to develop his game at Championship level.

Josh Cullen (West Ham to Bolton Wanderers – on loan)

There are high hopes for English-born midfielder Cullen, who made his Premier League debut nearly two years ago.

Josh Cullen Bolton Source: Twitter/JoshCullen8

Last season saw him farmed out on loan to League One side Bradford City, where the Ireland U21 international played 46 times as the Bantams narrowly lost out on promotion after defeat to Millwall in the play-off final.

Now 21, Cullen has joined Championship club Bolton Wanderers until January, so hopefully he can gain valuable experience and regular game-time.

Enda Stevens (Portsmouth to Sheffield United)

Former Shamrock Rovers defender Enda Stevens has had to rebuild his career after a dream move to Aston Villa turned sour.

Portsmouth v Newport County - Sky Bet League Two - Fratton Park Source: EMPICS Sport

The full-back signed for Villa in 2012 after his exploits in the Europa League. He would go on to make a full league debut against Manchester United and the future looked bright.

However, after a series of loan moves, the Dubliner’s career stagnated but he left for Portsmouth in 2015 found a new lease of life under Paul Cook. Last season, Stevens was named in the League Two Team of the Season as Pompey won promotion.

At 27, he has joined Sheffield United and already looks the part for the Blades — chipping in with a couple of goals in pre-season.

Darren Randolph (West Ham to Middlesbrough)

As soon as Joe Hart was signed by West Ham, it looked pretty clear that Darren Randolph needed to leave if he wanted to remain a number one.

Ireland: Republic of Ireland v Austria - FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualifying Round Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

And thankfully, the Wicklow stopper was picked up by relegated Middlesbrough. Under Garry Monk, Boro have spent big and they rightly head into the season as one of the favourites to go back up.

It’s important for Randolph’s international aspirations that he is playing regularly with Keiren Westwood knocking on the door, so this looks a promising move.

Cyrus Christie (Derby County to Middlesbrough)

Boro have also snapped up Ireland full-back Cyrus Christie from Derby County in recent weeks.

Republic of Ireland v Austria - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D - Aviva Stadium Source: Brian Lawless

The 24-year-old, who will continue to deputise for the injured Seamus Coleman at international level, spent three years with the Rams and was the first signing Monk made when he took the Middlesbrough job.

Christie had a mixed final year at Derby but this is a chance to kick on at a club with genuine promotion aspirations.

Aiden McGeady (Everton to Sunderland)

After a difficult time at Everton, Aiden McGeady rediscovered his form during a loan spell with Preston North End last term.

Sunderland v Celtic - Pre-Season - Stadium of Light Source: Danny Lawson

So when Preston boss Simon Grayson left to take the Sunderland position, it was a no-brainer to bring the winger with him.

All was not well at the Stadium of Light under David Moyes, and Darron Gibson’s recent comments suggest there are still problems within the squad. But Grayson has shown himself to be a competent manager and if he can get McGeady — and Sunderland — performing well, it can only be good news for Ireland.

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