Irish in Action: Playoff Previews
It’s a busy time in the nPower Football League this weekend, as promotion playoffs begin in the Championship, League One, and League Two. Those games will see many Irish players in action, looking to move up a level in the football pyramid.
Midfielder Stephen McPhail is the only Irishman at Cardiff, and has been there since 2006, since signing on a free transfer from Barnsley. He’s played 28 league games for the Bluebirds, and has looked impressive in support of loan signing Craig Bellamy. Recent Irish declaree Anthony Gerrard is also on the books at Cardiff, but has spent the season on loan at Hull.
There’s two Irishmen with Forest this season, Brendan Moloney and Mark Byrne, but only one of them has seen first team action. Defender Moloney came into the first team in March, and since then has played six times thanks to an injury crisis at the back. He could be in line to keep his place in the team for the playoffs. Mark Byrne has been on loan at Barnet. Defender Luke Chambers recently declared his interest in donning the green jersey, and has six goals in 44 league games from the back.
Of all the playoff teams, Reading have the strongest Irish contingent. Current Republic of Ireland international striker Shane Long has been a sensation up front, scoring 26 goals in all competitions. His striking partner, Noel Hunt has hit the back of the net on ten occasions, while rejuvenated defender Ian Harte’s set pieces have had a massive impact (he has eleven league goals in the Championship). Midfielder Jay Tabb has been in and out of the team, but has a total of 21 league appearances, and potential new recruit Alex Pearce has played 22 games, scoring once – in a 1-1 draw with playoff outsiders Forest.
The Championship playoff favourites have one Irishman hoping to win promotion to the Premier League. Aged 30, and seven years after he left Sunderland, Thomas Butler will be hoping to make a return to the top flight. However, Butler has not played for the Swans at all, having being ruled out for the season with a thigh injury.
Bournemouth are looking for their second successive promotion, and Harry Arter looks likely to start in the playoffs after impressing on loan at Carlisle. The hard-tackling midfielder is just 21, and a move to the Championship would definitely help his international prospects. In March, the Cherries signed Man City midfielder Donal McDermott on loan, and he has played in every game since, even scoring against Hartlepool.
Just 24 hours after playing for Ireland, Kevin Kilbane was sitting on the bench for Huddersfield helping with their promotion push. As well as the Hull loanee (who has played an amazing 24 games since January), the Terriers have two other players with Irish caps. Sub keeper Nick Colgan has only played in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, while striker Alan Lee has played a total of 28 games since signing from Crystal Palace. Amazingly, he’s yet to score in the league, but what better time than at Wembley? Midfielder Anthony Pilkington has been one of the standout players in League One this season, even scoring in five consecutive league games in October. However, an ankle injury has ruled him out of the playoffs.
Milton Keynes Dons
Stephen Gleeson has played 36 games for MK Dons this season, scoring twice. He’s one of the forgotten men from Steve Staunton’s US Tour, being capped in both games. He’ll want to prove himself in the CHampionship next season. Midfielder Shaun Williams has not yet played since moving from Sporting Fingal in March.
Only midfielder Lee Frecklington has Irish credentials at London Road, and he has had an injury-stricken season, playing just nine league games. He started one game in April, and was on the bench in the others, so should be in the squad for the playoff matches.
Midfielder James ‘Jimmy’ Ryan has been getting a lot of attention recently, particularly thanks to his hat-trick against Barnet. He’s scored ten times in fifty total games for Accrington, and has been a crucial player for Stanley. Burnley centre-back Kevin Long has been on loan at the Crown Ground since October, making an impression in his first game by getting sent off. Since then his discipline has improved, and he’s turned out seventeen times despite picking up a foot injury.
Former Aston Villa striker James Collins began the season travelling to Vienna in the Europa League, before moving to Burton in October on loan. Four goals in ten games caught the eye of Shrews boss Graham Turner, who signed him on a full-time contract in January. He has scored eight goals in 24 games for Shrewsbury, and at just 20 looks a strong prospect.
Former Cobh Ramblers and Cork City midfielder Darren Murphy moved to Stevenage in 2008, where he won the Conference last year. However, in August Murphy broke his leg in the first game of the season. He just returned in March and has been regaining fitness through substitute appearances. Expect him to feature from the bench in the playoffs.
Ipswich Town striker Ronan Murray signed for the Gulls in March on loan, after making seven Championship appearances. He played eight League Two games for Torquay, and scored his first ever league goal against Cheltenham. However, he won’t feature in the playoffs as he returned to Ipswich at the end of April, even starting against Preston.