The curtain came down for the final day of the Championship season as a batch of Irish players are preparing their goodbyes, after a campaign when England’s second tier had winners and losers from an Irish standpoint.
hree Irish players have already been promoted to the Premier League (Mark Travers, Robbie Brady, Gavin Kilkenny), though Brady has work to do before he can plan for top-flight football next term, making just two starts as his short-term contract runs out next month.
And four more are in contention to go up: Enda Stevens, John Egan, Conor Hourihane and David McGoldrick – all at Sheffield United.
To counter those positives, no fewer than seven Irish-eligible players were at clubs who have been relegated to League One: the Derby County quartet of Jason Knight, Festy Ebosele, Eiran Cashin and Louie Watson, as well as Barnsley’s William Hondermarck and the uncapped pair of Jack Taylor and Sammie Szmodics at Peterborough.
They have been demoted from the Championship but some of those will also be saying slán to their clubs.
Ebosele’s pre-arranged deal to move from Derby to Udinese did not play out well, with Rams boss Wayne Rooney unhappy with the Wexford lad’s attitude after the deal was made public, while Derby will have to admit defeat in any plan to hold on to Jason Knight, who deserves to play in the Championship at least.
For the title of highest-rated Irishman in that league, it’s hard to decide between Travers, for his 20 clean sheets in 45 games, and Egan’s status as an ever-present for Sheffield United, no mean feat to avoid missing a game across a season in a physically demanding league.
Darragh Lenihan also had a good season with Blackburn Rovers, although his club really should have done better than an eighth-place finish.
Now out of contract after a long stint at Ewood Park, the club want Lenihan to stay, but with a healthy return three goals in 41 games – healthy for a defender – the Meath native is well-placed in terms of offers.
Also at Blackburn, ex-Drogheda man James Brown became the 45th Irish-eligible player to feature in the Championship when he made his debut on the last day of the season, a boost for him.
Out of the spotlight and away from the promotion places, there were some very good Irish performers. Danny McNamara played 37 times for Millwall, won some of the club’s player of the year awards, and a senior call-up for the U-21 cap is only a matter of time. Hull City had a testing season, finishing just three places above the relegation zone, but Cork lad Sean McLoughlin stood out, 29 starts an impressive tally.
Underage caps Joel Bagan and Mark McGuinness did well for a poor Cardiff City side, while a 12-goal haul from Michael Obafemi at Swansea is, hopefully, a hint of what’s to come from him. Jimmy Dunne (QPR) and Alan Browne (Preston) also earn good marks for displays at poorly-performing clubs.
Those names aside, a batch of Irish players ended the term with question-marks, especially Premier League loanees. Middlesbrough would have hoped for more than two goals in 21 games from Aaron Connolly, while Jeff Hendrick’s loan move to QPR was also disappointing.
Injury didn’t help but four full 90-minute games in a four-month spell is not ideal. His future is now unclear as he’s out of the frame at Newcastle and did little at QPR to merit a long-term move.
Hourihane would have hoped for more than 15 starts and one goal for Sheffield United, his time at Aston Villa now over while Callum O’Dowda (16 starts) needs to move on from Bristol City.