Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 1°C Sunday 7 March 2021

The next Chris Forrester? 23 young players to watch out for in the League of Ireland this season

Sean Hoare, Roberto Lopes, Patrick McEleney and other hot prospects to keep an eye on.

N.B. Any player under the age of 24 is eligible for this list

1. Sean Hoare (St Pat’s) — 21

Sean HoareSource: Donall Farmer / INPHO

THE DEFENDER HAS established himself in the St Pat’s side after coming through their youth ranks, and the player has been linked with a move across the water in recent transfer windows, with Swindon and Portsmouth understood to be among the clubs tracking his progress of late.

2. Brandon Miele (Shamrock Rovers) — 21

Brandon Miele celebrates scoring a late goalSource: Morgan Tryky / Info

Joined Shamrock Rovers after being let go by Newcastle (he also briefly played for Bluebell United), Miele enjoyed a highly impressive first year at Tallaght Stadium, as 11 goals led to him being named the PFAI Young Player of the Year for last season.

3. Sean Maguire (Cork City) — 21

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round - Nottingham Forest v West Ham United - City Ground Source: EMPICS Sport

Once compared to Lionel Messi, Maguire was signed by Cork pre-season following a brief spell at Dundalk. He previously joined West Ham after impressing with Waterford United, scoring 13 goals in 24 appearances in the First Division.

4. Patrick McEleney (Dundalk) — 23

Patrick McEleney and John Dunleavy Source: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

Another player who has attracted interest from across the water, both Peterborough and Brentford have been linked with the player in the past. His previous injury problems reportedly put the former off signing him, but Dundalk elected to snap up the forward, who made over 100 appearances over the course of five years at Derry.

5. Roberto Lopes (Bohemians) — 23

Mark Quigley and Robert Lopes Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Lopes, who can play defence and midfield, has been at Bohs since 2009. Already vice captain, he was a regular part of the side of the side that finished fifth last season.

6. Eoghan O’Connell (Cork City, on loan from Celtic) — 20

Eoghan O'Connell Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Cousin of recently retired Irish rugby star Paul O’Connell, the centre-back has already played a couple of times for Celtic and also had a loan spell at Oldham, before recently agreeing to link up with his hometown club on loan.

7. Garry Buckley (Cork City) — 22

Garry Buckley Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The midfielder has been at Cork since 2012, already making close to 100 appearances for John Caulfield’s side and recently signing a new two-year contract. He will be aiming to help the club go one better than their second-place finish last season.

8. Ayman Ben Mohamed (Bohemians) — 21

Ayman Ben Mohamed Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Previously of UCD and Longford Town, Tunisia-born midfielder Ayman Ben Mohamed featured regularly in a Longford side that finished sixth last year.

9. Robbie Benson (Dundalk) — 23

Robbie Benson scores from the penalty spot Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Signed by Dundalk at the same time as McEleney, Benson caught the eye playing for UCD last year. Described by Stephen Kenny as a “natural footballer,” Benson will be hoping to help fill the void in the wake of Richie Towell’s departure to Brighton.

10. John Kavanagh (Cork City) — 21

John Kavanagh Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Injuries have curtailed his progress in recent times, but Kavanagh is still considered one of the league’s best prospects. Likened by some to former Cork youngster Brian Lenihan who now plays for Hull, the defender is likely to play a crucial role as Cork bid to launch a sustained title challenge.

11. Enda Curran (Galway) — 23

David Webster with Enda Curran Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Curran helped secure Galway’s top-flight survival with 12 goals last season and bigger clubs may come calling if he can produce a similar level of performance this time around.

12. BJ Banda (Finn Harps) — 17

Finn Harps match winner BJ Banda swamped by fans at the final whistle Source: Presseye/Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

One of the heroes of Finn Harps’ promotion as his goal sealed an extra-time win against Limerick, the South Africa-born teenage striker will only get better as he gains more first-team experience in the Premier Division.

13. Lee Desmond (St Pat’s) — 21

Lee Desmond Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A youth footballer with Newcastle previously, Desmond joined St Pat’s from Shelbourne last season and the Ireland U21 international was a regular at full-back as his side finished fourth last season.

14. Ryan Swan (UCD) – 19

Ryan Swan celebrates scoring a goal Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The teenage striker scored three goals in UCD’s unlikely Europa League success last season, earning him the SWAI Player of the Month award for July, while also grabbing 12 goals in the league last year. Still very much a raw talent, Swan will nonetheless be hoping his goals can help propel the Students back to the top flight this season.

15. Mikey Drennan (Shamrock Rovers) — 22

Mikey Drennan Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The Kilkenny-born former Aston Villa youth has been a revelation since signing for Rovers, managing 11 goals in 18 appearances last season. A regular in the Irish underage set-up, Drennan is expected to be a key attacker at Tallaght Stadium again this season.

16. Dean Clarke (Shamrock Rovers) — 22

Dean Clark Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Previously a hot prospect at Limerick, young attacker Clarke joined Rovers at the same time as the similarly promising Gary Shaw signed on from Longford. Both will be hoping to help Pat Fenlon’s youthful squad recapture past glories, after a few underwhelming seasons.

17. Jamie McGrath (St Pat’s) — 19

Jamie McGrath Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The ex-Cherry Orchard youngster has featured in midfield for St Pat’s since the 2014 campaign and has also caught the eye for Ireland at underage level. Not altogether dissimilar to previous Pat’s star Chris Forrester, McGrath could have a big influence for Liam Buckley’s side in the coming campaign.

18. Ismahil Akinade (Bohemians) – 22

Ismahil Akinade Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The Nigerian-born footballer is already well accustomed to playing in the League of Ireland, having made close to 100 appearances for Bray and Bohs respectively. He was also nominated for Young Player of the Year last season after proving a big hit with the Dublin-based side.

19. Daryl Horgan (Dundalk) — 23

Daryl Horgan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Already one of the best attacking players in the league, Horgan has played an integral role in Dundalk’s recent successes and may well follow former teammate Richie Towell to England if he can maintain a similar level this season. The Galway native signed a new contract with Stephen Kenny’s side back in December, despite being linked with a number of teams abroad, including Peterborough and Dutch side Den Haag.

20. Jaanai Gordon (Sligo, on loan from West Ham) — 20

Soccer - Barclays U21 Premier League - West Ham United v West Bromwich Albion - Rush Green Stadium Source: Adam Davy

One of the more left-field pre-season signings, young striker Gordon joins Sligo on loan from West Ham. He previously signed for the Hammers after making his senior debut for Peterborough as a 16-year-old.

21. Jesse Devers (Galway) — 19

The Mayo-born teenage attacker recently joined Galway from Wolves, after spending two-and-a-half years at the English side. A regular in the Irish underage set-up also, Deevers will be hoping to help Tommy Dunne’s side improve on last season’s 10th-place finish.

22. Dylan Connolly (Bray) — 20

Dylan Connolly celebrates scoring Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Ireland U21 winger was snapped up by Ipswich last year after impressing at Shelbourne. Connolly was subsequently let go by Mick McCarthy’s side and has returned to Ireland with Bray ahead of the new season.

23. Ryan McConnell (Finn Harps) — 20

Ryan McConnell

A former Man United U18s captain, big things are expected of Donegal native McConnell after he signed with newly promoted Finn Harps back in November.

Who should we have included? Let us know in the comments section below.

The42 is on Snapchat! Tap the button below on your phone to add!

‘Tottenham are title favourites>

One of Ireland’s most promising players made a big impact in the Dutch league at the weekend>

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

Read next: