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Dublin: 10°C Monday 8 March 2021

Richie Towell and 9 more of the best Irish players not in Martin O'Neill's squad

Stephen Gleeson, Chris Forrester and Jack Byrne also feature.

Updated at 22.51

WITH CHARLTON’S STEPHEN Henderson today becoming the 40th player (and the sixth goalkeeper) to be called up to the Ireland squad in recent weeks, you would be forgiven for thinking that manager Martin O’Neill has called up virtually everyone who’s anyone in Irish football at this stage.

Yet there remains a few talented players who continue to go under the radar.

The following list is not necessarily a suggestion that any of the following players deserve to be in the squad, merely a reminder that the talent pool available to O’Neill and co is not necessarily as small as some people may assume.

1. Richie Towell

Richie Towell Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Richie Towell scored 29 goals in all competitions with Dundalk this season, finishing the campaign fittingly by scoring the winner in the FAI Cup final against Cork City at the weekend. Granted, he was hardly a resounding success at Celtic, but at 24, Towell is growing in maturity. Martin O’Neill has yet to pick a League of Ireland player and no Ireland manager since Steve Staunton has capped a domestic footballer, with Jason Byrne and Joe Gamble briefly making appearances during his tenure.

2. Stephen Gleeson

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Birmingham City v Blackburn Rovers - St Andrews Source: Nick Potts

The 27-year-old midfielder has impressed this season, helping guide Birmingham to sixth in the Championship and chipping in with three goals along the way. The former Cherry Orchard player has already won two caps at senior level, though both were earned way back in 2007 during the Steve Staunton era.

3. Joe Mason

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Cardiff City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Cardiff City Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

A regular presence in the Cardiff team just below the Championship play-off places, Mason has been involved in all 16 of his side’s matches, with the 24-year-old ex-Ireland U21 striker scoring five times. With the likes of Simon Cox and Anthony Stokes having been included in the most recent provisional squads despite enduring less successful times at their clubs, Mason may feel optimistic of a call-up sooner rather than later if he maintains his current form.

4. Chris Forrester

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Swindon Town v Peterborough United - County Ground Source: JONATHAN BRADY

St Pat’s fans will know all about Chris Forrester from his days at Richmond Park, while the 22-year-old midfielder joined Peterborough before the most recent transfer window’s closure. Forrester has made quite an impact since moving to The Posh, featuring on a regular basis and garnering comparisons to Michael Carrick. Critics have suggested he needs to bulk up a little if he aspires to become a top-level player, but Forrester undoubtedly has the talent to be a future Ireland international.

5. Jack Byrne

Soccer - Barclays U18 Premier League - Final - Manchester City v Everton - Goodison Park Source: Mike Egerton

One of the most promising Irish youngsters to come along in quite a while, Byrne signed a new contract with Man City in the summer, before the 19-year-old went on loan to Cambuur in the Dutch League. His stint in Holland has been less than perfect — the club are currently struggling and are second from bottom in the league. However, Byrne has recovered well from an injury setback at the start of his loan spell and he has made seven appearances in total for the Dutch outfit.

6. Jonathan Douglas

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Ipswich Town v Birmingham City - Portman Road Source: EMPICS Sport

Douglas made eight appearances for Ireland between 2004 and 2007, and while he has not featured since for the national team, the Monaghan native has still managed to carve out a decent career for himself. At 32, he is unlikely to feature again for the Boys in Green barring an injury crisis, despite being an ever-present in the Ipswich midfield this season, however, with a bit more luck, it could have been him instead of Paul Green or Simon Cox getting regularly called up in various squads through the years.

7. Richie Ryan

Richie Ryan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The former Sunderland, Dundee United and Shamrock Rovers footballer has enjoyed a superb season in North America, captaining Ottawa Fury to a highly successful campaign. This weekend, himself and Irish teammate Colin Falvey are set to feature as The Fury take on Real Madrid legend Raul and Euro 2008 winner Marcos Senna of New York Cosmos in the NASL final.

8. Alan Browne

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Queens Park Rangers v Preston North End - Loftus Road Source: Dominic Lipinski

Having previously been with Cork City, the 20-year-old midfielder is now on the books at Preston. Despite just being out of his teens, Browne has featured in all 16 of his side’s Championship games so far this season — an impressive achievement for a youngster in such a notoriously tough league — having signed a new contract with the club in the summer. Bigger things may consequently await him in future.

9. Shane O’Neill

MLS Rapids Sounders Soccer Source: AP/Press Association Images

The 22-year-old Cork-born defender is eligible for both Ireland and USA. He has featured for the latter at underage level, and was even called up to Jurgen Klinsmann’s senior squad recently enough (but has yet to play for the senior side). Son of former All-Ireland-winning Cork Gaelic footballer, Colm O’Neill, the youngster has indicated he would be open to switching international allegiance to Ireland. He currently plays for Royal Mouscron-Péruwelz of Belgium, having moved there on loan from Apollon Limassol of Cyprus, whom he joined from the Colorado Rapids last August.

10. Aiden O’Brien

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Millwall v Watford - The New Den Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

It’s no secret that there is a shortage of top-level strikers coming through the Irish system currently. Shane Long is the only forward who plays in the Premier League, while Kevin Doyle, Robbie Keane and Daryl Murphy are all over 30 and arguably past their peak. Consequently, at 22, Millwall’s Aiden O’Brien — who was named as the most recent League One Player of the Month — might just be the man to fill the inevitable void once the aforementioned names retire. Born in Islington, O’Brien has been a regular for Ireland at underage level since 2009.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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