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3 LOI players who made the move to Britain in 2018 and 3 who might in 2019

Who will join the likes of Graham Burke and Ronan Curtis abroad next year?

Barry Cotter, Graham Burke and Ronan Curtis all moved to English clubs this year.
Barry Cotter, Graham Burke and Ronan Curtis all moved to English clubs this year.

Players who made the move to Britain

Graham Burke

GRAHAM BURKE WAS one of the biggest success stories in the League of Ireland this year, with the Dubliner following in the footsteps of players like Pat Hoban, Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan and Sean Maguire in enjoying a standout season before earning a move across the water to the Championship.

Like Maguire in 2017, Preston spotted a promising talent midway through the season and didn’t wait until the end of the Premier Division campaign before snapping up the Shamrock Rovers playmaker.

Burke was easily the Hoops’ most influential player in the first half of last season, dictating play with ease and scoring goal-of-the-season contenders seemingly on a weekly basis.

Graham Burke Graham Burke in action for Ireland against Poland in September. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Returning home from England following spells with Aston Villa and Notts County at the start of 2017, Tallaght Stadium was the perfect location for the 25-year-old to relaunch his career and try and earn a second bite at football in England.

Burke was top of the Premier Division goalscoring charts from midfield when he joined Preston in June, notching 13 goals in just half a season with Rovers.

Since moving to Deep Dale he has become a regular Ireland international having made his debut while still with Rovers, scoring on his debut against the USA at the Aviva Stadium to cap a fairytale story for the midfielder.

He has linked up with other Ireland internationals like Sean Maguire, Callum Robinson and Alan Browne with the Lilywhites, making 11 appearances so far this season and scoring his first Championship goal against Stoke City in August.

Barry Cotter

Originally making headlines as a doppelgänger for Neymar back in 2015, former Limerick defender Barry Cotter made the switch across the water at the beginning of this year after agreeing a deal with Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town.

The Clare-born right-back joined the Tractor Boys on the final day of the January transfer window having made 11 appearances for Limerick in the SSE Airtricity League throughout 2017.

New Ireland manager McCarthy described the then 19-year-old as “physically tough enough, athletic enough, quick enough and powerful enough” to compete in the Championship and the player was given his debut for the club back in April.

Barry Cotter celebrates Cotter joined Mick McCarthy's Ipswich at the beginning of 2018. Source: Ryan Byrne; ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cotter came on in the second half during a 1-0 win against Barnsley, however the game would prove to be McCarthy’s last in charge of the club as the 59-year-old resigned immediately afterwards.

The player had enjoyed trials with West Brom, Everton and Sunderland, but speaking earlier this year admitted that the newly-appointed Ireland manager was the key reason in his decision to join Ipswich above any other club.

“Mick will always be the manager who gave me my debut in English football,” Cotter said.

“Words can’t describe my feelings during the 1-0 win over Barnsley. Just the supporters’ reaction and going down to the North Stand afterwards. It was the best day of my life so far.”

The player celebrated his 20th birthday last month but has made just one more appearance for Ipswich since being given his debut eight months ago back in April, instead lining out for the side’s U23s.

Ronan Curtis

Another promising underage international over the last number of years for the Ireland U21s, Ronan Curtis has taken like a duck to water in League One since joining Portsmouth from Derry City.

The striker hit six goals in his first 10 appearances for Pompy after moving to Fratton Park in May and he was named man-of-the-match on his FA Cup debut, a televised 4-0 win against Maidenhead United in November.

Peterborough United v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One - ABAX Stadium Curtis impressed with Derry City and was bought by Portsmouth last summer. Source: Barrington Coombs

He was heavily linked with a move to Sweden midway through last season, but with the move collapsing the talented forward instead secured a move to League One where he has replicated the form which made him a wanted man with Derry at the Brandywell.

The 22-year-old scored five goals in 19 games for the Candystripes up front last season but has upped his game with Portsmouth, scoring seven goals and landing eight assists in his first 17 appearances as the side sit top of the table.

Curtis’ form saw him earn his senior Ireland debut, with the player enjoying a drastic turnaround from the Brandywell to lining out for Martin O’Neill’s men at the Aviva Stadium in the space of just six months.

He was a second-half substitute in the 0-0 friendly against Northern Ireland, while also being introduced off the bench in Ireland’s final Uefa Nations League game against Denmark in Aarhus.

Players who could follow suit in 2019

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Jamie McGrath

The talented winger has taken a massive leap in his development since moving to Dundalk from St Pat’s ahead of the 2017 campaign. Since then the 21-year-old has tasted league, FAI Cup and EA Sports Cup success and has also played in European competition.

Following an impressive 2018 where he was an integral member of the Dundalk side which claimed the Premier Division and FAI Cup, McGrath was named PFAI Young Player of the Year last month.

Jamie McGrath celebrates with the trophy McGrath won the double with Dundalk and was named PFAI Young Player of the Year for 2018. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The award sees the Athboy native follow in the footsteps of players including Shaun Williams (Millwall), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Chris Forrester (Aberdeen), Richie Towell (Rotherham, on loan from Brighton), Daryl Horgan (Hibernian) and Sean Maguire (Preston), with McGrath tipped to make a similar move to the UK in the near future.

A tricky winger capable of scoring goals at St Pat’s, McGrath has transformed both physically and in his attacking game in the final third since arriving at Oriel Park and enjoying success under Stephen Kenny with Dundalk over the last two years.

Previously lining out for Ireland’s U19s and U21s, his recent PFAI Young Player of the Year accolade is reward for another year of rapid progression for the Meath man, but also an indicator that he could be the next promising League of Ireland forward to move abroad.

Darragh Leahy

The 20-year-old defender knows all about the trials and tribulations of football across the water but after arriving back in Ireland at the beginning of this year was certain that he wanted to go again.

Leahy had six months left on his contract with Coventry City this time last year, but decided that his career would be best suited by first-team minutes, which is where Bohemians and Keith Long offered an outlet.

Signing for the Gypsies at the beginning of 2018, the highly-rated defender said that he would have to fight tooth and nail to try and earn a starting position. Come the end of the season, more than 40 games later, and the argument could easily be made that Leahy was the club’s standout performer in 2018.

He was named in the PFAI Team of the Year — the only outfield player outside of Dundalk, Cork City and Waterford — and earned plaudits throughout the season for his composed and steely displays at the heart of Bohemians’ defence at full-back.

Bohs' Darragh Leahy celebrates scoring Leahy was one of the best defenders in the Premier Division last season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Speaking to The42 in February, Leahy name-checked Sean Maguire and Richie Towell as examples of players who returned to the League of Ireland following their first stay in England, before using the league as a springboard to earn a move back across.

“People might look at it and think it’s negative coming back to Ireland,” he said. “I think of it as another bounce forward. If you’ve one or two good seasons, you’re straight back across.”

Still only 20-years-old and with a whole career ahead of him, Bohemians supporters would welcome his contribution for another couple of seasons before accepting that he may be too good to hold onto beyond that.

Brandon Kavanagh

Watching Brandon Kavanagh’s impressive performances for Shamrock Rovers last season, it is hard to believe that the player only turned 18 at the end of September.

Looking incredibly comfortable playing against League of Ireland pros, some of whom twice his age, Kavanagh has turned a number of heads since arriving in Tallaght from Bohemians U17s last year.

A pacey forward with a deft left foot, Kavanagh has shown a canny ability to skip past defenders and beat markers with quick feet, snappy dribbling and lightning pace down the wing.

Brandon Kavanagh celebrates winning Brandon Kavanagh in action for Shamrock Rovers against Dundalk in August. Source: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

He made the transition from underage to senior football with ease this year, making 10 starts and 20 appearances in total for Stephen Bradley in the Premier Division, becoming an integral member of the Hoops’ squad in the second half of last season.

Like goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, Kavanagh has benefitted immensely from Rovers youth academy facilities at Roadstone and is another promising underage prospect who could be identified by potential suitors across the water.

A few more years playing in the League of Ireland could prove immensely beneficial for the player’s development and maturity over the next couple of years.

But based on his performances in the latter stages of this past season, holding his own in a Shamrock Rovers side with European football as their ambitions, the Ireland U17 international could be another prospect targeted by UK clubs in the near future.

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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