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23 of the best League of Ireland players under 23

Neil Farrugia, Daniel Mandroiu and Conor Davis are among those to feature.

Daniel Mandroiu of Bohemians.
Daniel Mandroiu of Bohemians.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

1. Daniel Mandroiu (21) — Bohemians

One of the most naturally talented players in the league, the former Brighton youngster lit up the Premier Division last season with a number of spectacular goals. He will be expected to push on again this year and if he does so, Bohs could struggle to keep hold of him for much longer.

2. Neil Farrugia (20) — Shamrock Rovers

An Ireland U21 international who was on target in Stephen Kenny’s first competitive game in charge against Luxembourg, the pacy and skillful winger made his name at UCD. Since signing for Shamrock Rovers last season, injuries and the form of others have restricted his appearances, so this season will feel like a new start in a sense.

3. Conor Davis (21) — Cork City

Highly impressive after joining UCD from the Reading youth set-up, former Ireland U17 international Davis joined Cork in the off-season, after a brief spell with Derry City last year. If Neale Fenn’s side are to enjoy a good season this year, you get the feeling the young striker will play a key part.

4. Daniel Grant (19) — Bohemians

The 19-year-old winger is highly thought of at Bohs and has been capped by Stephen Kenny at Ireland U21 level. A torn hamstring last season slowed his progress, but he is one of a number of talented youngsters hoping to help the Dublin side build on an impressive season that saw them finish third last year.

5. Andy Lyons (19) — Bohemians

The Ireland underage international impressed when deputising for Derek Pender in the Bohs defence last year. And now that the veteran full-back has retired, he can expect to get more game time with the Dalymount Park outfit

6. Liam Scales (21) — Shamrock Rovers

Up until recently, a hugely impressive presence in the centre of the UCD defence, with good composure on the ball and physicality to match, Scales drew interest from a number of clubs in England, including Bristol Rovers, but ultimately opted to join Shamrock Rovers last November.

7. Jaze Kabia (19) — Shelbourne

An exciting young winger who Shelbourne only signed from Cobh Ramblers last July, he was one of the stars of the First Division last year, finishing as joint-third top scorer with 14 goals. Despite his tender years, he will likely play a prominent part in the campaign again this year for Ian Morris’ side.

8. Tyreke Wilson (20) – Waterford  

The former Cherry Orchard youngster joined Man City in 2016 and was even called up to Pep Guardiola’s senior Man City squad for a 2018-19 pre-season tour of the US, but returned to Ireland recently and signed for Waterford. The promising full-back has been capped by Ireland a number of times at underage level, including once for the U21s.

9. Stephen Mallon (21) — Derry City

If Stephen Mallon can have anything like the impact of the last Sheffield United loanee to join Derry — David Parkhouse, a Young Player of the Year nominee last year — he will be doing well. The Belfast native is capable of playing as both a winger and a full-back, and is an Ireland U21 international, while enjoying a stint in Australia with A-League side Central Coast Mariners last year.

10. Darragh Leahy (21) — Dundalk

Widely regarded as one of the best young talents in the league, Leahy has been highly impressive since returning home after failing to break into the Coventry first team. He made the PFAI Team of the Season in 2018 and had a similarly good campaign at Bohs last year, with his stellar performances earning him a move to Dundalk last December. He will have to work hard to displace Dane Massey, however — the 31-year-old has made over 100 appearances for the Lilywhites since joining in 2013.

11. Conor Levingston (22) — Bohemians

Another astute acquisition from Keith Long, the midfielder joined Bohs prior to last season, having been with Wolves since the age of 15 before being released. He impressed last year with some controlled performances in midfield, having almost been lost to the game after leaving the Premier League club and having a brief spell out of the game.

12. James Talbot (22) — Bohemians

james-talbot Bohemians goalkeeper James Talbot. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A postman in his job outside of football, Talbot’s performances in goal were a big reason behind Bohs’ success last year. After being let go by Sunderland in June 2018, Talbot has enjoyed a significant turnaround since then, even earning an Ireland call-up for the qualifiers with Denmark and Gibraltar last May.

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13. Lewis Banks (22) — Sligo

One of the many unheralded players at Sligo who helped the club finish seventh last year, in addition to narrowly losing 1-0 to Dundalk in last season’s FAI Cup semi-final. The former Stoke U23 captain, who can play in defence and midfield, only joined the club from Stafford Rangers a year ago, impressing ever since for Liam Buckley’s men.

14. Brandon Kavanagh (19) — Shamrock Rovers

An exciting attacking midfielder who regards Wes Hoolahan as a role model, the wealth of talent at Tallaght Stadium has meant Kavanagh hasn’t always got the amount of game time he’d like, nevertheless the Ireland underage international looks more than capable of becoming a future star, with his terrific vision and technical ability enabling him to stand out at any level.

15. Dylan Watts (22) — Shamrock Rovers

The former Leicester youngster had a loan spell at Bohs before committing to the Hoops. He is a gifted midfielder with good close control and has been compared in the past to a young Keith Fahey.

16. Daire O’Connor (22) — Cork City

An exciting attacker who joined Cork from UCD ahead of last season, and even in a struggling Leesiders team last year, he impressed, scoring four times and putting in some eye-catching displays.

17. Conor Kearns (21) — St Patrick’s Athletic

The Ireland U21 international was a standout player for UCD, before unsurprisingly opting to leave and join Pat’s after the Students were relegated from the top flight last year. One of a number of new additions as part of Stephen O’Donnell’s new-look squad, the Dubliner is set to battle the experienced 34-year-old Brendan Clarke for the Saints’ number one jersey.

18. Jamie Lennon (21) — St Patrick’s Athletic

The Ireland U21 international has already made over 50 appearances for Pat’s, making his first-team debut as far back as August 2017. The St Pat’s Young Player of the Year for 2018, he is only likely to benefit under the guidance of a man who has no shortage of experience playing as a midfielder in the League of Ireland — Stephen O’Donnell.

19. Ciaran Kelly (21) — Bohemians

The highly rated defender stood out at St Pat’s last season and was subsequently snapped up by Dublin rivals Bohs. On the evidence of his displays so far, the Lucan native possesses all the attributes needed to go far in the game.

20. Scott Allardice (21) — Waterford

A former Scotland U19 international, the former Dundee United player looks a good signing for Waterford, as the midfielder got plenty of football with Bohs last year and will be hoping to build on that experience at the RSC.

21. John Mahon (20) — Sligo

The accomplished centre-back has gone under the radar slightly at Sligo, but is still justifiably considered one of the league’s best prospects. Rangers and Celtic were linked with his signature last year, though a recent fractured tibia is set to slow his progress somewhat.

22. Luke Wade-Slater (21) — Bohemians

An Ireland underage international, Wade-Slater, who can play in both defence and midfield, joined Bohs last year, after a stint with Stevenage in which he made two appearances in League Two. He will have benefited from a season in the Premier Division behind him in which he played regularly for Keith Long’s side.

23. Darragh Markey (22) – St Patrick’s Athletic

Another good technical midfielder, Markey has been on trial with Celtic in the past and lined out for Ireland at underage level. Over the last four seasons, he has gradually established himself in the Pat’s first team, to the point that he is now a regular in the side.

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