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Dublin: 9°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

6 young Irish players to watch in England this season

We take a look at six young Irish players who might make the breakthrough at club level this season.

Will Smallbone (Southampton)

southampton-v-sheffield-united-premier-league-st-marys-stadium Will Smallbone. Source: Andrew Boyers

Smallbone made his breakthrough at Southampton last season – a goal on his debut in the FA Cup and nine further Premier League appearances – and he may establish himself in this campaign. 

The club evidently believe in the English-born Irish U19 international, having handed him a new four-year contract in June and then declined to sign a replacement for Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. 

Nominative determinism was pretty much the only thing holding Smallbone back last season: he was adjudged slightly too lightweight to play in the middle, and so Ralph Hassenhuttl often played him wide. His manager sees Smallbone centrally, however, speaking of him as either a deep-lying number six or as a more advanced No.10. 

These are emerging as problem positions for Stephen Kenny, who has also spoken highly of Smallbone, albeit also acknowledging he needs to develop physically. We may see that development this season. 

Gavin Bazunu (Rochdale)

shamrock-rovers-v-aik-europa-league-qualifying-round-one-first-leg-tallaght-stadium Source: Donall Farmer

Kevin Zefi is already threatening the record, but, for the moment, Bazunu remains the youngest player to make an appearance for Shamrock Rovers’ first team. The 18-year-old goalkeeper has since made fine progress at Manchester City and will spend this season on loan in the cut and thrust of League One.

Rochdale are the latest inheritors of the SunderIreland crown as the most Irish club in England: they are managed by Brian Barry-Murphy and have Bazunu in their ranks along with Paul McShane, Jimmy Keohane, Eoghan O’Connell and Jimmy Ryan. 

Bazunu started and kept a clean sheet in the EFL Cup win away to Huddersfield a week ago, and if he can establish himself as first-choice at Rochdale, then he may well be Darren Randolph’s deputy with Ireland by the end of the season.

William Hondermarck (Norwich)

oxford-united-v-norwich-city-u21-efl-trophy-southern-section-group-b-kassam-stadium Hondermarck (right) playing for Norwich's U21s last year. Source: Adam Davy


Honermarck is set and ready to go in the Championship this season with Norwich. A versatile midfielder, Hondermarck joined the club in January last year once he finished his Leaving Cert, having impressed in Drogheda’s first team. 

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With Norwich back in the Championship, the season offers him a chance to impress. He scored one goal and assisted another for the club’s U21s in the EFL Trophy earlier this week, having made the bench for the first team’s game with Luton in the EFL Cup. 

A versatile midfielder, Hondermarck is still only 19, and has an interesting background: his father is a German-born Frenchman, his mother is French-born with a Congolese background and William was born in France before moving to Ireland at the age of five. 

Congo have shown an interest in calling him up for an underage international tournament, but Hondermarck’s loyalties seem to lie with Ireland, whom he cheered on against France at Euro 2016. 

Conor Coventry (West Ham United) 

ipswich-town-v-west-ham-united-pre-season-friendly-portman-road Conor Coventry in pre-season action for the West Ham first team. Source: PA

Declan Rice has expressed his love for and loyalty to West Ham on several occasions, so that presumably means he will soon be off to Chelsea. If/when Rice does go, Coventry may benefit. 

A deep-lying midfielder, Coventry has impressed in pre-season for West Ham having spent the latter half of last season on loan at Lincoln. He started the 4-1 win at Ipswich Town before coming off the bench in a 2-1 victory against Brentford. Coventry worked with Stephen Kenny at U21 level, and his anchoring of midfield was crucial in Ireland’s 4-1, come-from-behind win at home to Sweden last year. 

Troy Parrott (Millwall)

troy-parrott Troy Parrott. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Okay, a pretty obvious pick, but regular first-team football offers Parrott a chance to develop his enormous potential. Millwall proved to be a good loan environment for Jayson Molumby last year, and Parrott has made an encouraging start, scoring twice in pre-season. 

Becoming a regular in the Irish senior squad by the end of the season should be Parrott’s aim. 

Ryan Cassidy (Accrington Stanley)

watford-u18s-v-birmingham-city-u18s-fa-youth-cup-third-round-maurice-rebak-stadium Ryan Cassidy (left) captains Watford's U18s side. Source: EMPICS Sport

Cassidy has yet to make a competitive appearance for Watford’s first team, but the club have given the St Kevin’s Boy’s product a new two-year contract having impressed last year as captain in the club’s run to the FA Youth Cup semi-final. A striker, Cassidy scored seven times in four games before Watford were eliminated by Liverpool.

Having signed said new deal, Cassidy has joined Accrington Stanley on loan for the season, saying it was time to “step out of his comfort zone.” 

Early sigs are that it’s working: he was called up for Jim Crawford’s U21s training camp in Belfast last week for the first time, along with Smallbone. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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