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Dublin: 18 °C Tuesday 16 July, 2019
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We're the Gaffer: The42's best Irish XI of 2017

2017 proved particularly kind to this collection of players.

Caoimhin Kelleher

AS SIMON MIGNOLET and Loris Karius continue to give Liverpool fans heart palpitations whenever they appear for the senior side, it’s not outside the realms of possibility that young prospects could get a decent chance.

It helps if you’re known to the manager and when Cork teenager Caoimhin Kelleher was name-checked by Jurgen Klopp earlier this year, it was a reminder to the youngster that a close eye is being kept on him.

The 19-year is regularly training with the senior side and was part of their warm-up prior to the Merseyside derby earlier this month. After being a consistent performer for the Under-19 side, he was called up to the Irish Under-21 side by Noel King in November.

With first-choice U21 keeper Kieran O’Hara having signed a deal with Manchester United to keep him at the club until 2020, it’s great to see two Irish goalkeepers making excellent progress at high-profile sides.

Matt Doherty

Wolves are flying in the Championship this season and look odds-on to return to the Premier League. Central to their rapid improvement this term has been the Irish defender, who’s been at Molineux since 2010.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship - Molineux Source: Mike Egerton

Still just 25, he’s been an ever-present for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side this term. When the side were struggling in recent seasons, the right-back, who operates as a wing-back quite regularly under the Portuguese – was a constant. Quiet and unassuming, his club’s success – and the senior call-up for the play-off first-leg against Denmark – makes this one of his best years yet.

Shane Duffy

After the scarring experience of that Euro 2016 defeat to France, many questioned whether Duffy could cut it at the highest level. Shortly after, he began the 2016/17 season in horrid form for Blackburn, racking up some well-documented own goals. But he showed some terrific mental strength and his on-field influence and dominance for Blackburn didn’t go unnoticed. Brighton came calling and paid a then-record amount for his services. He’s now a solid top-flight centre-half and first-choice for his country.

Declan Rice

What a wonderful prospect and still so young. Rice was handed a West Ham debut by Slaven Bilic in mid-August and it was a baptism of fire as the side were swept aside by a free-flowing Manchester United at Old Trafford. Still, he’s been retained by David Moyes and the experience he’s currently getting at 18 is invaluable. He has the intelligence to play further forward, if required, and is set for a really excellent career.

Enda Stevens

The former St. Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers player has bounced around over the last number of years.

Sheffield United v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Bramall Lane Source: Clint Hughes

There was the romanticism of a move to the Premier League in 2012 when Aston Villa came calling. But there were four loans deals in his three-and-half years there. He needed consistency and game-time and found it when he signed permanently for Portsmouth. And his good form there resulted in a League Two winners medal and a transfer to the Championship. Since arriving at Sheffield United, he’s played in all but one league game as the Blades have impressed. They’re well in the play-off picture and the left-back is enjoying a renaissance. A return to the top-flight and some chances with the Irish side would be the icing on the cake.

Tyler Toland

In terms of turnarounds, the Republic of Ireland Women’s team have managed to pull themselves out of an atmosphere of suspicion and chaos and absolutely revel in a new setup.

With Colin Bell in charge, results have been excellent – none more so than the scoreless draw against the reigning European champions the Netherlands. The defensive display that night was rightly lauded but it was the performance from 16-year-old Tyler Toland that stood out.

Tyler Toland Source: Ryan Byrne; ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Twice she cleared spectacularly off the line as the home side laid siege to the Irish goal. Toland, from the east Donegal village of St Johnston, showed incredible maturity in only her second senior start. Her first came in the terrific 2-0 World Cup qualifier win away to Slovakia, having only made her senior bow in September – in the process becoming the youngest player ever to step up to that level. Voted Under-16 Player of the Year in 2016, this year was even better for her. Who knows just how good 2018 will be.

Conor Hourihane

The Bandon native got his big move and signed for Aston Villa in January after a sterling time with Barnsley. Inevitably, it took him a while to settle in to his new surroundings and his new club struggled to make an impact in their first season in the Championship. But, his form was rewarded with a first senior cap against Iceland in March and was involved in the summer tour to the US too.

This season has been much improved and his hat-trick against Norwich was a statement of intent. He’s got five goals in total and added two more assists. He’s also a core member of Steve Bruce’s starting XI. Barring goalkeeper Sam Johnstone and Glenn Whelan, no one has racked up as much playing time as the Corkman.

Denise O’Sullivan

The move to the US was a dream that quickly turned into a bit of a nightmare. Then, thankfully, it was a dream again.

After signing in 2016 and enjoying a decent first campaign, O’Sullivan was frozen out by a new manager at the Houston Dash but backed herself and, instead of being satisfied with a place on the bench, walked away. A switch to Germany was all but sealed but owing to her reputation in America, North Carolina jumped at the chance to sign her. Fast forward a few months and O’Sullivan was starting in a Championship final for the best team in the country’s National Women’s Soccer League. The Courage suffered a narrow defeat but it capped a wonderful comeback story for the Cork native.

Denise O’Sullivan Source: Tommy Dickson; ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Meanwhile, she remains an invaluable member of the Irish senior side and scored a crucial goal in the World Cup qualifier against Slovakia as the team secured an important victory away from home and are unbeaten after three games.

Adam Idah

Still just 16, the attacker only joined Norwich City earlier this year after impressing for Cork schoolboy club Corinthians. And he’s shown some magnificent form since arriving there. Earlier this month, there was a 10-minute hat-trick in a 4-1 FA Youth Cup victory over Barnsley at Carrow Road and a litany of other goals.

For his country, there was more encouragement as he featured for Colin O’Brien’s Under-17 side at the summer’s European Championship as the team made it to the quarter-finals. Idah scored the winner against Bosnia in a crucial group-stage win.

He’s goal-hungry, a calm finisher and showing no signs of slowing down. Potent ingredients all around.

Sean Maguire

2017 was even better than 2016 for the striker. He scored more goals for Cork City, picked up a League of Ireland winners medal and also got his move to Preston. And his impact at Deepdale has been eye-catching. He immediately settled into his stride and scored his first goal in just his fourth start. His second goal came in the following game. He’s managed four in total and despite a bad hamstring injury that ensured the year came to a premature end, it’s been an astonishingly good twelve months for the 23-year-old.

Aaron Connolly

The Galway native is just 17 but has already made his senior debut for Brighton. Magnificent for the Irish Under-17 side in Euro qualifying, scoring seven times in six games, he failed to find the net at the tournament. Still, just a few months later he was handed a special moment by Chris Hughton and played the last 15 minutes of Brighton’s League Cup win over Barnet.

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

He’s tipped for big things and going by the year he’s had, you can see why.

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):

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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