Rising Stars

6 young players to watch in this year's League of Ireland Premier Division

Ahead of the new season kick off, we pick out some of the players ready to make a name for themselves.

THE LEAGUE OF Ireland Premier Division is no country for old men: the average age of a player across the league last season was just 25.4, down from 28.4 in just three seasons. 

(When compared to the most recent top division season across other European nations, only the leagues of Croatia, Austria, Latvia, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Slovakia, and Denmark had a lower average age.) 

Some of the young talent from last year’s season has taken flight – Johnny Kenny, Ross Tierney and Killian Phillips the prime examples – but 2022 will be the same as any other year, and see the further polishing of a few gems.

We are omitting some of the young players who have already established themselves in the Premier Division – Dawson Devoy, Darragh Burns, James Abankwah – so here are six young players from the top division to watch this year. 

aidomo-emakhu-celebrates-after-scoring-a-goal Emakhu celebrates his goal against Teuta of Albania last year. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Aidomo Emakhu 

Club: Shamrock Rovers 

Age: 18 

Position: Forward

Emakhu made an instant impact for Rovers last year, coming off the bench to score the winning goal against Teuta of Albania in the Europa Conference League qualifiers. He went on to to make 12 appearances across league and cup for Rovers, primarily up front, and rounded the goalkeeper to score cooly against Finn Harps. He has also been capped at U19 level for Ireland, scoring in a friendly against Sweden. 

The competition for places in the attacking places at Shamrock Rovers is unlike anywhere else in the league – pick three from Emakhu, Rory Gaffney, Aaron Greene, Jack Byrne, Danny Mandroiu, Richie Towell, Graham Burke, and Dylan Watts – but Emakhu started the President’s Cup final and is worth keeping a close eye on throughout 2022. 

jamie-mullins Jamie Mullins of Bohs. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Jamie Mullins

Club: Bohemians 

Age: 17 

Position: Attacking midfielder/forward 

Mullins was introduced to the Bohs’ first-team last year, and became the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer with a fabulous finish against Longford Town last year. 

Mullins is the latest player at the club linked with a move to Brighton – soon to be renamed Brighton and Bohs Albion, surely – though he won’t be 18 until next September and has a contract through 2022, so won’t make the move prior to that. 

Mullins played primarily off the left for Bohs last year, and should have further opportunity to impress this year. 

lincoln-city-v-charlton-athletic-sky-bet-championship-lner-stadium Sean Roughan. PA PA

Sean Roughan

Club: Drogheda United 

Age: 18 

Position: Defender 

Drogheda signing Roughan on loan from Lincoln City may prove to be one of the transfer coups of the off-season. Roughan was on trial with Chelsea and Southampton as recently as last May, and, playing primarily as a left-back, has made 11 appearances for Lincoln, six of which came in League One.  

Roughan scored on his U19 international debut and would have been capped at U21 level last year had he not sustained an injury in training. 

stefan-malentijevic-and-sam-curtis Sam Curtis (left) challenges for the ball in a Uefa Youth League meeting with Red Star Belgrade. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Sam Curtis 

Club: St Patrick’s Athletic 

Age: 16

Position: Defender 

Curtis has the distinction of being the youngest player to play for both Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic. Curtis made his senior debut for Rovers at the age of just 14, playing in their B team in a First Division meeting with Athlone Town, but has since moved to Pat’s, for whom he made his first-team debut against Waterford last August. 

Curtis only turned 16 last December, but has already played at U19 level for Ireland, and he and his brother Ben (also at Pat’s) were both part of the Irish U18 side that played Malta at the end of 2021. 

A right-sided defender, Curtis has played at right-back along with right wing-back and to the right of a back three for Rovers. With James Abankwah Serie A-bound in the summer, there may be further opportunities for Curtis in the Pat’s first team as the season goes on. 

seamas-keogh Seamas Keogh. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Seamas Keogh 

Club: Sligo Rovers

Age: 19 

Position: Attacking midfielder 

Keogh began among the Sligo youth ranks before signing for Southampton, but returned to his old side midway through last season. Manager Liam Buckley described Keogh as “a real baller” upon his return last year, though he didn’t instantly force his way into the starting line-up. 

He did make 10 appearances in a more attacking role – usually as an attacking midfielder – which was a relatively stable role for Keogh, as he was moved around in Southampton’s U23s side, for whom he occasionally played at right-back. 

Keogh has captained Ireland at U17 and U18 level, and has been capped for the U19s. 

colm-whelan-celebrates Colm Whelan celebrates UCD's play-off success against Waterford. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Colm Whelan  

Club: UCD 

Age: 21

Position: Striker 

It may be a case of catching Colm Whelan while you can this season. He has studies to complete at UCD, which has helped him stay with the Students for the season kick-off given interest from Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers. He may be off once the summer comes around, however, as he recently signed up to the Polaris Agency run by super-agent Jorge Mendes. 

Whelan won the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers Ireland Player of the Month award for November, with 22 goals and six assists across the 2021 season vaulting UCD to promotion to the top tier. 

He scored against Luxembourg for the Irish U21s last year and impressed even when he didn’t find the net, with members of the Italian squad squad singing his praises after a qualifier last November. 

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