Saturday, June 22, 2024

Emerging full-back deficit underlines pathway issues

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The dearth of emerging full-backs ready to follow in the footsteps of the Republic of Ireland’s current incumbents continues to highlight the development pathway issues caused by under-funding within the Irish game according to former St Patrick’s Athletic and Shelbourne midfielder Conan Byrne.

Ireland captain Seamus Coleman, Matt Doherty, Robbie Brady and Enda Stevens are the players naturally primed to take up the full-back or wing-back positions for Tuesday’s friendly against Hungary (live on RTÉ2, RTÉ Player and RTÉ 2fm) and next week’s fixture in Portugal.

But while all four have been steadfast servants for the Boys in Green, the youngest members of that quartet – Doherty and Brady – are 32 years of age, while over the weekend interim manager John O’Shea appeared to suggest the door is not completely shut on a potential international comeback for James McClean.

All of which suggests that there is a pressing need for younger options to emerge and grasp the baton in the longer-term.

Udinese’s three-time capped Festy Ebosele has featured in previous squads but was not included this time, while Under-21 international Sam Curtis is one to watch having made his first steps for Sheffield United and Newcastle’s Galway native Alex Murphy, who can play left-back as well as his main centre-back role, is simlilarly on the fringes of the Magpies’ first-team

Among the more experienced options, Southampton’s Ryan Manning has earned 11 caps to date but the 28-year-old has not fully established himself as the leading option on the left side.

Either way, the Galwegian is not in the squad for June and the aforementioned quartet will continue to occupy the wing-back or full-back slots depending on whether Ireland line up in a back three or four.

“It’s an ageing back-line, certainly in those areas, the likes of Coleman and Doherty and Brady and Stephens but who else is there to come through?” Byrne said on the RTÉ Soccer Podcast.

Listen to the RTÉ Soccer podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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“It all goes back to funding and where the Republic of Ireland and football are in this country. That’s what it comes down to, where we’ll be in 10-15 years’ time.

“We need to look at the long-term plan, not just window to window of international football.

“It has to come from grassroots through to League of Ireland academies and right through into international set-ups, looking at infrastructure.

“We’ve been talking about this for years. But the plan is put in place, it needs to be implemented now by Government.

“And we’re seeing the lack of funding that we’ve had in terms of our football with our performances over the last number of years.”

Byrne added that the paucity of Irish players in the big five leagues underlines that.

“It’s not good enough and then we expect to be playing at major tournaments. It’s just not going to happen,” he continued.

“People are probably looking at Hungary and thinking ‘we’ve a good chance here’. They’re unbeaten in 14 international games.

“So it’s not a case that we just turn up and put on an unbelievable performance. We’re up against a really good side who might get out of their group in the Euros and go far in the competition, given their form.

“But getting back to the point about the wing-backs, it’s been an area that we’ve been very strong in over the years with the likes of Coleman, Doherty, Stevens, McClean and Brady.

“We have been strong in that area but it’s just the lack of players that are going to come through. You’re looking possibly at Sam Curtis who’s done really well at St Pat’s and made his breakthrough this season at Sheffield United.

“But again, he’s a Championship player next season. We need to have players playing in the top leagues in Europe in order for us to compete at international level.”

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