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7 Irish storylines to follow in the new EFL Championship season

The players and teams to track as a new season gets underway.

Updated Jul 29th 2022, 8:00 PM

THE EFL CHAMPIONSHIP returns tonight and, as has become the tradition, it is the English league most worthy of the attention of the Ireland manager. 

Ireland was the third-most represented country in England’s second tier last season, with 48 players playing a total of 73,810 minutes, which was eight times the Premier League minutes accrued by Irish players. 

And with 55 Irish players across 24 squads in the latest iteration, that total may rise again this season. 

Here are a few storylines to follow from an Irish point of view. 

reading-v-brighton-and-hove-albion-pre-season-friendly-select-car-leasing-stadium Hendrick challenges Brighton's Neal Maupay in a pre-season friendly. Source: PA

1. Veterans with a point to prove 

Of the 14 players who appeared for Ireland in the knockout defeat to France at Euro 2016, six have been selected in an Irish senior squad since the start of 2021. And of those six, only Shane Duffy and Seamus Coleman won’t be playing in the Championship this season. 

The other four will be making their point to Stephen Kenny from England’s second tier. On the firmest ground is James McClean, an ever-present in squads under Kenny, and stepping back up to the Championship after an excellent season in League One with Wigan. 

The remaining three, though, have lots to prove. Jeff Hendrick was considered undroppable from the Irish midfield until he was dropped, and he is now on loan at Reading and aiming to disrupt the midfield triangle of Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby, and Jason Knight. Hendrick has a lengthy contract at Newcastle but won’t be playing for them again, and last season’s loan at QPR was dogged by injury. He hasn’t exactly landed in an ideal platform for his talents, as Paul Ince’s Reading are bracing themselves for a struggle. They have also re-signed Shane Long, who has been a bit-part player under Kenny and will have to pull up trees to force his way back into the reckoning. 

The last of this list is Robbie Brady, a guy Kenny rates very highly while lamenting his injury record. Brady made little impact on loan at Bournemouth last year, and has been given a one-year deal at Preston for the forthcoming campaign.  If he can get and stay fit, he could be a very smart piece of albeit hesitant business for Preston. Emphasis, sadly, being on the word if

republic-of-ireland-v-scotland-uefa-nations-league-group-1-aviva-stadium Obafemi and Parrott. Source: PA

2. Front two ready to take flight 

A considerable vote of confidence from Spurs in Troy Parrott: a new, three-year deal, and a loan move to the Championship. After a couple of rocky stints at Millwall and Ipswich, he found a sweet spot at MK Dons in League One last year. They narrowly missed out on promotion but Parrott has made the step up without them, joining Preston on a season long-loan move having been given a chance to impress Antonio Conte on Spurs’ pre-season tour. This is the season he can prove that he can score goals regularly at a level analogous to a good chunk of Ireland’s international opponents. 

Should he do so, he will likely find himself alongside an Irish international team-mate in the scoring charts, Michael Obafemi. Injuries look to be the only factor that can hinder him this season. He left Southampton with a wretched injury record and a fitful record, never once playing three games in a row. He ticked that box at Swansea last year before catching fire, scoring 11 goals in his final 19 games. 

burnley-press-conference-friday-june-24th-barnfield-training-centre Vincent Kompany. Source: PA

3. Burnley (Seriously)

Stick with us on this one: Burnley are going to be interesting this season. The fine print of their leveraged buy-out meant they had to repay a £65 million upon relegation, hence why Nathan Collins was up for sale. They have held onto some of their Premier League bedrocks, however, including Ashley Barnes, Jay Rodriguez and, at least for now, Maxwel Cornet. 

To this they’ve added Vincent Kompany as manager, who has brought with him the metronome of his Anderlecht midfield, Josh Cullen

Cullen has arrived for a bargain £3 million, cheap for a guy who has become central to the Irish team and seemingly available for every game there is to play. Speaking on The Football Family podcast for members of The42 this week, Shane Keegan said he expects Cullen to be the dominant midfielder in the Championship this season: if that proves to be the case, a new-look Burnley may be bouncing back to the Premier League sooner rather than later. 

Also worth keeping an eye on is defender Luke McNally, once of Pat’s and signed from Oxford, who may instantly help to fill the capacious boots of Ben Mee, James Tarkowski, and Collins, and young Limerick forward Dara Costelloe. 

republic-of-ireland-u21-v-montenegro-u21-uefa-european-u21-championship-qualifying-group-f-tallaght-stadium Will Smallbone. Source: PA

4. Loan Stars

Stoke City will be worth a keen Irish eye this season. John O’Shea has gone in there as an assistant in addition to his role with the Irish U21s, and he’ll work with two of that side’s most exciting players in Will Smallbone and Gavin Kilkenny, signed on loan from Southampton and Bournemouth respectively. Smallbone was outstanding in helping the U21s secure a Euros play-off against Israel later this year, and is on the cusp of a senior call-up. This season can propel him there. 

It will also be fascinating to see how left-back Tayo Adaramola goes, having joined Coventry on loan from Crystal Palace. 

norwich-city-v-everton-premier-league-carrow-road Adam Idah. Source: PA

5. Those dropping down…

This being an even-and-then-odd numbered season means it’s time for Norwich to play in the Championship. Adam Idah is fit again after his terribly-timed knee injury last season, and staying fit will be his primary objective this year. Do that, and he can make a serious impact. He was outstanding in a front two with Teemu Pukki in the Premier League just prior to his injury. Andrew Omobamidele looked to be the long-term future for Ireland a year ago but then he hurt his back and along came Nathan Collins: he has happily recovered from that lengthy lay-off, and must now focus on securing his place in the Norwich team. 

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Jayson Molumby spent last season on loan at West Brom from Brighton and has now made that deal permanent. They wilted last season under Valerien Ismael and didn’t get the required bounce from Steve Bruce’s arrival to put them back into the promotion picture. Molumby showed what he can do for Ireland in the June window, and this season feels a significant one for him: he should be aiming to establish himself as a first-team regular in the West Brom midfield. 

Kevin Long, meanwhile, remains at Burnley, though it remains to be seen how highly he ranks in Kompany’s thoughts, for he’s some way from Stephen Kenny’s. 

wigan-athletic-v-sutton-united-papa-johns-trophy-semi-final-dw-stadium James McClean. Source: PA

6…and those stepping up 

McClean should have little trouble re-acquainting himself with the Championship at Wigan, while Will Keane, if fit, can make more curious his lack of impact for Ireland by showing he’s of Championship standard. More doubt shrouds Jamie McGrath, whose January move to Wigan has proved bafflingly underwhelming. He has rarely made the team and occasionally missed the squad entirely, a fact which instantly cost him his Ireland place. Perhaps a full pre-season can help him force his way into contention this season. 

Georgie Kelly had to wait until the final day of last season to make his Rotherham debut but then scored the goal that secured promotion, giving him a ratio of one goal every 10 minutes. If he can maintain that in the Championship, that would be, well, pretty good going. In truth, Kelly can force his way into the international reckoning by outperforming the likes of Long and Scott Hogan in the Championship: there’s usually a striker’s spot up for grabs on the squad’s fringes. Chiedozie Ogbene remains at Rotherham too, in spite of much speculation to the contrary at the start of the summer. He has become an emblem of Kenny’s better work with Ireland, and this season can prove what he has shown in flashes at international level: that he’s better than League One standard. 

preston-north-end-v-swansea-city-sky-bet-championship-deepdale-stadium A view of Deepdale. Source: PA

7. The most Irish club of them all 

If you don’t have any allegiances to a Championship club but want to peer through green-tinted specs and throw your weight behind one, we recommend you avoid Sunderland and Watford, the two first-team squads with no Irish representatives. 

The undoubted Irish pick is Preston: almost half their starting team could be Irish next season, with Parrott and Brady joined by Greg Cunningham, Seani Maguire, and Alan Browne. (Adam O’Reilly has extended his loan spell with Pat’s.) 

Next closest are QPR and Wigan, both with four. The latter have McClean, McGrath, Keane and teenager Babajide Adeeko, while the Irish names in the QPR squad are centre-backs Jimmy Dunne and Conor Masterson, along with underage internationals Sinclair Armstrong and Olamide Shodipo. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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