Irish Eye

John Egan, Jack Byrne and other Irish players to watch out for in the Championship this season

Cork native Conor Hourihane will also be looking to catch the eye in England’s second tier.

THE BELOW LIST includes players that are expected to feature regularly for their clubs over the course of the season, and that are on the periphery of the Irish squad, or not yet capped at senior level.

It does not include players that have been either regularly called-up by Martin O’Neill over the last couple of seasons or players that have featured in Euro 2016. 

Kevin Toner (Aston Villa)

Position: Defender

The arrival of new manager Roberto Di Matteo hasn’t necessarily turned out to be a good appointment from the Meath man’s perspective.

With Toner having made four Premier League appearances under caretaker manager Eric Black towards the end of last season, the versatile 20-year-old, who can either play in the heart of the defence or as full-back, hasn’t featured as much as he would have wanted in pre-season.

On top of that, experienced defenders such as Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott have so far remained at the club. While the addition of former Bournemouth defender Tommy Elphick has increased the competition of places further.

In the Championship, the games come and thick and fast so there still should be opportunities for Toner to impress during the season.

Watford v Aston Villa - Barclays Premier League - Vicarage Road Dominic Lipinski Dominic Lipinski

Conor Hourihane (Barnsley)

Position: Midfielder

The captain of the newly-promoted side, the 25-year-old promises be one of the more exciting Irish talents on show in England’s second tier next season.

The Cork man has the ability to find space in crowded areas, and is deadly from set pieces. Having scored 10 goals in League One last season, the former Ireland U21 international will be aiming to match that tally this season.

Barnsley v Millwall - Sky Bet League One - Play-Off - Final - Wembley Stadium EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Daniel Cleary (Birmingham City)

Position: Defender

The former Liverpool defender will start life at Birmingham in their Development Squad, but the Ireland U21 international will be looking to make an impact and force his way into the first-team after signing a one-year deal at St Andrew’s.

The 20-year-old centre-back never made a senior appearance for Liverpool but was named on the bench for Liverpool’s Europa League clash with Bordeaux last September.

Soccer - UEFA Youth League - Group B - Liverpool v Real Madrid - Langtree Park EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Jack Byrne (Blackburn Rovers)

Position: Midfielder

The Dubliner promises to be one of the best Irish talents in recent years, with a lot of people expecting big things from the 20-year-old.

A product of the famed St Kevin’s Boys, Byrne spent last season on-loan to Eredivisie side Cambuur, where he scored four goals as his side suffered relegation, although the Manchester City man became one of the bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season.

The Ireland U21 international has already caught the eye of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, having trained with the senior side in their pre-Euro 2016 friendlies back in March. With his second loan spell away from City being closer to home, expect to hear a lot more from and about Byrne throughout the season.

Soccer - Premier League U21 International Cup - Final - Manchester City v Porto - City Football Academy Barrington Coombs Barrington Coombs

Anthony Stokes (Blackburn Rovers)

Position: Striker

The 28-year-old has slowly drifted off the radar of many Irish fans, but such as the dearth of striking options for Martin O’Neill to pick from, a revitalised Anthony Stokes could see him earn a recall to the Irish squad, sooner rather than later.

The former Arsenal striker, who has won nine caps since making his debut for the national side back in 2007, has struggled in recent seasons, and was sent on-loan to Scottish Championship side Hibernian for the second half of last season ,where he managed nine goals in 25 appearances, including two in the final of the Scottish Cup as Hibs beat Rangers 3-2.

Stokes, who joins Blackburn on a free transfer from Celtic, has struggled to find the back of the net in England however, managing just six goals during his time with Sunderland, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace.

Rangers v Hibernian - William Hill Scottish Cup Final - Hampden Park Jeff Holmes Jeff Holmes

Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers)

Position: Midfielder

The tough-tackling midfielder made the breakthrough at Ewood Park last season, and certainly made his presence felt as he picked up 11 yellow cards in 27 matches.

The Dunboyne native will be hoping to continue the momentum from last season and impress new boss Owen Coyle at the Lancashire club.

Blackburn Rovers v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Ewood Park Clint Hughes Clint Hughes

John Egan (Brentford)

Position: Defender

The centre-back was named in the PFA League One Team of the Year last season, and as such, it is no surprise to see the tall, commanding defender earn a move to the Championship.

Son of the late, legendary Kerry Gaelic footballer, John Egan, the 23-year-old could certainly begin to address the problem O’Neill has of finding young, talented Irish defenders.

The former Sunderland defender also has a keen eye for goal, having scored 10 goals in 81 league appearances for Gillingham.

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Gillingham v Chesterfield - Priestfield Stadium EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Richie Towell (Brighton)

Position: Midfielder

The former Dundalk midfielder has been unable to cement a place in Chris Hughton’s promotion-chasing side, as of yet.

Having scored 29 goals in his final season with the Lilywhites, much was expected of the 25-year-old, but opportunities so far, have been limited.

Towell has only featured twice for Brighton last season, and based on Hughton’s team selections in pre-season, it is unlikely will see much of Towell at the start of this campaign either, but could feature as the season progresses.

Sheffield Wednesday v Brighton and Hove Albion - Sky Bet Championship - Play Off - First Leg - Hillsborough David Davies David Davies

Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City)

Position: Midfielder

Eyebrows were raised when O’Dowda was included in Ireland’s extended pre-Euro 2016 squad, but that was more of a reflection of the 21-year-old playing in League Two, rather than his footballing ability.

Bristol City won the battle to sign the coveted Ireland international, having scored eight league goals as his former Oxford United side earned promotion to League One.

Oxford United v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League Two - Kassam Stadium Paul Harding Paul Harding

Callum Reilly (Burton Albion)

Position: Midfielder

The 22-year-old can operate at full-back, but is most comfortable in the centre of the park, having joined Burton on-loan from Birmingham last season.

After impressing in his 14 League One appearances, Reilly signed a two-year contract with the Brewers, who could surprise a few teams this season.

Burton Albion v Stoke City - Pre-Season Friendly - Pirelli Stadium Barrington Coombs Barrington Coombs

Damien McCrory (Burton Albion)

Position: Defender

Despite having made over 200 appearances in the Football League, not many Irish fans will know too much about the left-back from Limerick.

The 26-year-old, who can also operate on the left side of midfield has been an integral part of Burton’s success in recent seasons after they’ve earned back-to-back promotions.

Burton Albion v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One - Pirelli Stadium Tim Goode Tim Goode

Adam McDonell (Ipswich Town)

Position: Midfielder

The 19-year-old midfielder will start on the fringe of Mick McCarthy’s side this season, but could feature more prominently as the season progresses.

The former Shelbourne player made his Championship debut for the Tractor Boys last season, but he is highly regarded at Portman Road.

Ipswich Twitter / Ipswich Town Twitter / Ipswich Town / Ipswich Town

Stephen Henderson (Nottingham Forest)

Position: Goalkeeper

The injury-plagued goalkeeper lost his place in Charlton Athletic’s starting line-up towards the end of the season, following a couple of injury setbacks.

The 28-year-old move to Nottingham Forest last month on a free transfer and will compete with Dorus de Vries and Dimitar Evtimov for place in the side at the City Ground.

Charlton Athletic v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship - The Valley EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Greg Cunningham (Preston North End)

Position: Defender

Preston’s Player of the Year last season, Cunningham has won many admirers since joining the Lilywhites from Bristol City in 2015.

The 25-year-old left-back will be hoping to add to his four Ireland caps after Preston cemented their place in the Championship last season.

Preston North End v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship - Deepdale EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Alan Browne (Preston North End)

Position: Midfielder

The former Cork City midfielder has won many admirers at Deepdale, since making the move to England in 2014.

The 21-year-old made 40 appearances for Preston last season, scoring three goals, and his fine form saw him rewarded with a new contract that will keep him in Lancashire until 2019.

Soccer - Capital One Cup - Third Round - Preston North End v AFC Bournemouth - Deepdale Tim Goode Tim Goode

Reece Grego-Cox (QPR)

Position: Forward

It could be a breakthrough season for the 19-year-old striker at Loftus Road. Having already made four appearances for the R’s in the Premier League, he failed to play in a single Championship match last season.

The Ireland U21 forward who has demonstrated a good turn of pace is highly thought of by the coaches in the QPR’s youth setup.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester City v Queens Park Rangers - Etihad Stadium EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Josh Barrett (Reading)

Position: Midfielder

The highly-rated midfielder made his debut for the Irish U21 side earlier this year, after making his debut for Reading back in March and has gone to be a regular in their matchday squad.

With Jaap Stam replacing Brian McDermott in charge of the Royals, the 18-year-old will be hoping his progress isn’t halted by the former Manchester United defender.

Although born in England, the attacking midfielder has strong Irish roots with his parents from Dublin and Tipperary, while Barrett has also played GAA with Hampshire.

Reading v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Anthony Forde (Rotherham United)

Position: Midfielder

Much was expected of the Limerick man when he joined Wolves in 2011, but the winger’s role was greatly reduced by the time he left the club in 2014.

The 22-year-old begun to realise his potential with Walsall, and enjoyed a tremendous season in League One last time out, but his side fell to Barnsley in the play-offs. In June, Alan Stubbs signed the former Ireland U21 international for an undisclosed fee.

Port Vale v Walsall - Sky Bet League One - Vale Park David Davies David Davies

Matt Doherty (Wolves)

Position: Defender

Last season was Doherty’s best in his career so far, and his performances earned him the Player of the Year award at Wolves.

The 24-year-old is most comfortable at right-back, but has shown he is more than capable of filling in in the left-back slot also. The former Bohemians man would be expected to feature more heavily in Irish squads during the World Cup qualifiers.

Huddersfield Town v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship - John Smith's Stadium Richard Sellers Richard Sellers

Joe Mason (Wolves)

Position: Forward

The former Ireland U21 international has been a regular feature in the Championship over the past five seasons.

The 25-year-old joined Wolves in January, but struggled to cement a place in the starting line-up, but the former Cardiff City striker can become more prolific if given the opportunity.

Huddersfield Town v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship - John Smith's Stadium EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

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