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Irish players in Championship chase as League One play-offs begin

There’s plenty of Irish interest, with four clubs vying to secure promotion for the 2020-21 season.

PA-43142392 Irish international Josh Cullen celebrates after Charlton Athletic's win in last season's League One play-off final. Source: Tim Goode/PA Archive/PA Images

THREE SENIOR INTERNATIONALS are among a cohort of Irish players bidding to successfully negotiate the League One play-offs in England, which begin with the first legs of both semi-finals this evening.

At stake for Portsmouth, Oxford United, Fleetwood Town and Wycombe Wanderers is a place in the 13 July final at Wembley, where the winners will be rewarded with promotion to the Championship for the 2020-21 season.


Portsmouth v Oxford United – Today, 5.30pm
Oxford United v Portsmouth – Monday, 5.00pm

Fleetwood Town v Wycombe Wanderers – Today, 7.30pm
Wycombe Wanderers v Fleetwood Town – Monday, 7.30pm

If you’re planning to keep track of the Irish involvement in the play-offs – which Sky Sports will broadcast live – here’s who you’ll need to pay attention to.


Ronan Curtis

Adam Davy:EMPICS Sport Source: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

Achieving promotion would be an ideal way to cap what has already been a very positive season for Ronan Curtis, who joined Portsmouth from Derry City in the summer of 2018.

With 13 goals in all competitions, the 24-year-old – who generally operates on the left side of a three-pronged attack – is Pompey’s top goalscorer for the 2019-20 campaign.

Curtis was in particularly impressive form ahead of the opening of the January transfer window, having found the net eight times in seven League One outings.

This led to speculation about interest from a number of Championship clubs, which was quelled when he accepted an offer to extend his contract at Fratton Park until 2023.

The London-born attacker, who was raised in Donegal, has won three senior Republic of Ireland caps since his debut in the November 2018 friendly against Northern Ireland.

There’s added Irish interest at Portsmouth provided by English-born duo Marcus Harness and Sean Raggett. Harness, a 24-year-old winger, was under consideration for selection during Mick McCarthy’s most recent tenure, while 26-year-old centre-back Raggett – who’s on loan from Norwich City – is also keen to represent Ireland.

Oxford United

Anthony Forde

Adam Davy:PA Archive:PA Images Source: Adam Davy/PA Archive/PA Images

Anthony Forde is aiming to savour League One play-off success for the second time in the space of three seasons, having been a member of the Rotherham United team that saw off Shrewsbury Town after extra-time at Wembley in the 2018 final.

After Rotherham were relegated at the end of their first season back in the Championship, Forde rejected a contract extension and joined Oxford United last summer instead.

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Another play-off triumph would allow the 26-year-old winger to have no regrets about that decision, as Rotherham were one of the two clubs who benefited by being promoted automatically from League One when this season was brought to a premature conclusion due to Covid-19.

Forde returned to the Oxford team in February following a two-month absence. The Limerick native had to be hospitalised when he broke four ribs and punctured a lung during a game against Shrewsbury.

The former Ireland U21 international began his career at Wolves, for whom he made six appearances in the Premier League as an 18-year-old during the 2011-12 season. 

Liam Kelly

Pro Shots Photo Agency:SIPA USA:PA Images Source: Pro Shots Photo Agency/SIPA USA/PA Images

“He’s some player,” Oxford United manager Karl Robinson said of Liam Kelly as his side began their play-off preparations last month.

The 25-year-old creative midfielder, who swapped Reading for Rotterdam last summer, joined Oxford from Dutch giants Feyenoord on a loan deal in January.

Things didn’t work out as planned at Feyenoord, where he was signed by his former Reading boss Jaap Stam, who described him as “a technically sophisticated player with a lot of potential”.

He made two appearances under Stam before the former Manchester United defender resigned in October. Kelly didn’t feature at all under Stam’s successor, Dick Advocaat, and returned to England when the transfer window opened.

After signing for Feyenoord last July, Kelly said it would be “a great honour” if his performances for the club led to a senior call-up for Ireland.

Despite being born in England, he has represented Ireland up to U21 level. He qualifies through grandparents who hail from Mayo and Leitrim.

Fleetwood Town

Glenn Whelan

Richard Sellers:EMPICS Sport Source: Richard Sellers/EMPICS Sport

It remains to be seen whether he’ll have a role to play under new Ireland manager Stephen Kenny, but his recent contribution to his club would suggest that Glenn Whelan certainly has a future with Fleetwood Town.

After an acrimonious departure from Hearts, he joined Fleetwood in January. In the 11 games that the veteran midfielder has played since his arrival, Joey Barton’s side are unbeaten.

“He showed us why we have brought him into the group,” Barton said of Whelan after his first outing for the club. “He showed that Premier League and international class.”

Despite turning 36 earlier this year, Whelan hasn’t missed a minute of competitive action for Fleetwood, who have never been as high as the Championship before, having only been promoted to the Football League for the first time in 2012.

The Dubliner, who took his tally of senior Ireland caps to 91 against Denmark last November, was a League One play-off winner as a 21-year-old at Sheffield Wednesday in 2005. 

Paddy Madden

PA-39913301 Source: Martin Rickett/EMPICS Sport

Fleetwood Town have another League One play-off winner within their ranks in Paddy Madden, who was promoted with Yeovil Town in 2013.

Madden, who has scored 19 times in all competitions this season, is the leading marksman for Fleetwood, who he joined from Scunthorpe United in 2018. 

“I’ve been scoring goals in League One for many years now and hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that in the Championship too,” the 30-year-old Dubliner told The42 shortly before the season ground to a halt. “I’ll just keep contributing as well as I can to the team.”

During Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign, Madden earned his only senior Ireland cap to date in a 2013 friendly against Wales.

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About the author:

Paul Dollery

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