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Dublin: 1 °C Monday 19 March, 2018

12 young Irish footballers to watch out for in 2018

Wolves’ Connor Ronan and others you are likely to be hearing more of in the coming months.

1. Connor Ronan

Manchester City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Carabao Cup - Fourth Round - Etihad Stadium Source: Tim Goode

Has featured sporadically for Wolves’ first team over the past two seasons, and caught the eye in particular during the club’s League Cup match with Man City earlier this season. Even Kevin De Bruyne is a fan, as Ronan relayed to The42 back in November.

2. Declan Rice

West Ham United v Bolton Wanderers - Carabao Cup - Third Round - London Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

At 18, Rice has already made a number of appearances for West Ham in the Premier League. The London-born Ireland U21 international can play both as a defensive midfielder and centre-back, featuring in the latter position recently when the Hammers came desperately close to holding Premier League leaders Man City to a draw.

3. Jayson Molumby

Brighton and Hove Albion v Barnet - Carabao Cup - Second Round - AMEX Stadium Source: Gareth Fuller

The 18-year-old Waterford native has already featured for the Brighton senior team in the League Cup. A memorable few weeks also saw him captain the Ireland U19s in his home county back in October. He has been part of an encouraging run of results for Tom Mohan’s side. Goals from the similarly promising Neil Farrugia and  Lee O’Connor saw them beat Serbia 2-1 to qualify for the Euros Elite Round earlier this year.

4. Aaron Connolly

Brighton and Hove Albion v Barnet - Carabao Cup - Second Round - AMEX Stadium Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Ireland’s senior side may not be blessed with an abundance of top-class strikers currently, but there is at least one exciting prospect coming through. Like fellow Irishman Molumby, Galway native Connolly has already made his debut for the Brighton senior team in the EFL Cup. The teenage attacker was also part of the Ireland U17 side that reached the quarter-finals of the European Championships earlier this year before suffering a narrow 1-0 loss to an England team that would go on to win the World Cup the following October.

5. Josh Cullen

Hull City v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship - KCOM Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

A technically accomplished midfielder, Cullen has already made a Premier League debut for West Ham, coming off the bench in a 2015 win over Liverpool at Anfield. For the most part though, he has gained experience playing senior football in League One, while on loan at Bradford and in the Championship with Bolton this season.

6. Ronan Curtis

Republic of Ireland v Israel - 2019 UEFA Under 21 Qualifying - Group Five - Tallaght Stadium Source: Niall Carson

A powerful runner who has already established himself as a key player for Derry City, Curtis is also an Ireland U21 international. The winger/attacker caught the eye playing in the Europa League earlier in the season and attracted interest from Swedish side Ostersunds as a result, though a move there fell through ultimately.

7. Ryan Manning

Newcastle United v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship - St James' Park Source: PA Archive/PA Images

A gifted playmaker, the 21-year-old’s story has been well-documented as he went from Galway United to the brink of a QPR exit and then right back in contention for the first team again, inking a long-term contract last January owing to his impressive progress. Manning has caught the eye for the Ireland U21s and a senior debut cannot be too far off if he continues improving at his current rate.

8. Jack Byrne

Jack Byrne Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The last 12 months have been a significant learning curve for Byrne. Last year, the Dubliner was being invited to train with the Irish senior side and gaining plenty of acclaim for some standout performances on loan with Dutch side Cambuur in the Eredivisie. However, since leaving Man City permanently, things haven’t gone entirely to plan for Byrne. He struggled to make an impact at Blackburn and Wigan, but the midfielder seems to be rediscovering the form of old now on loan at Oldham in League One, though his future there is looking highly uncertain too.

9. Ryan Sweeney

Crewe Alexandra v Stoke City - Pre-Season - Gresty Road Source: PA Wire/PA Images

On loan from Stoke, the 20-year-old centre-back has impressed at Bristol Rovers this season. Sweeney, who was born in London, has also been a key component of Noel King’s Ireland U21 side, who are currently second behind Germany in their 2019 Uefa European U21 Championship qualification group and have conceded just three goals in five games.

10. Reece Grego-Cox

Republic of Ireland v Israel - 2019 UEFA Under 21 Qualifying - Group Five - Tallaght Stadium Source: Niall Carson

The 21-year-old made a Premier League debut for QPR as far back as 2015. Since then, he has had to be patient at club level, spending last season on loan at Newport County in League Two before injury cut short this stint prematurely. He has been compared to Charlie Austin by youth coach Steve Gallen, and demonstrated further evidence of his potential by hitting a hat-trick in the Ireland U21 team’s win against Israel last October.

11. Jake Doyle-Hayes

Aston Villa u23 v Middlesbrough u23 - Premier League 2 - Villa Park Source: David Davies

A 19-year-old midfielder who was born in Marino in Dublin before re-locating to Cavan at a young age, Jake Doyle-Hayes signed for Villa in 2015 despite interest from bigger clubs in Man United and Chelsea. The youngster has represented Ireland at various age groups and penned a new three-year contract with Villa last September. Since then he has made further progress, appearing twice for the club in the EFL Cup, while making the bench for their Championship match against Middlesbrough on Saturday.

12. Harry Charsley

Accrington Stanley v Everton - Pre-Season - Wham Stadium Source: Dave Howarth

A regular for the Ireland U21s and Everton’s reserve sides, Charsley recently made his senior debut for the Toffees in the Europa League. Primarily a midfielder, the Wirral-born 21-year-old lined out at left-back against Apollon Limassol and drew plaudits for his assured display on the night.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

‘I hear my name. ‘Woah, I’m in.’ But it was only at training I realised I was starting over Tony Ward’>

The Irishman who was ‘better than George Best’ and other little-known stories>

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