During May I wrote about concentration in the Premier League and the vanishing mid-table. In short, the piece covered how the Premier League has broken into two groups; Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur (or the big six) and the rest. It is likely that as the season progresses a similar pattern will emerge, with the big six clubs fighting for the top four positions in the league.
As an Irish viewer of the Premier League, it is interesting to consider our stake in the race for the title, both today and through time. Ireland has a long and rich history of sending players to top English clubs. Many exports have been extremely successful. This includes the likes of Ronnie Whelan, Kevin Moran, David O'Leary, Niall Quinn, Roy Keane, Dennis Irwin, John O'Shea, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff.
What has become worrying in more recent times is an absence of an Irish presence in many of these squads. The table below lists the last Irish player to line-out in a competitive game for the first team, for each of the big six clubs, and the final season this happened. There is a mixture of information available.
Chelsea's last Irish player was the very successful Damien Duff. How time flies. It is now 10 years since Duff wore the Blue of the west London club.
Despite having very strong Irish traditions, both Liverpool and Spurs are heading in the direction of Chelsea. Robbie Keane was the last Irish player to line out for both, in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Shay Given left Man City the same year as Keane left Spurs, and is the last Irish player to play for the champions. During his time at the club, Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland also wore the sky blue.
Probably the most worrying is Manchester United. A club that have had more Irish internationals than any other top flight club in England. Since Denis Irwin signed in 1990, there had been a constant Irish presence in the senior squad. This ended in 2013 when Robbie Brady left for Hull City, having made just one first team appearance for the Red Devils.
However, hope springs eternal. This season two Irish players can be considered to be on the first team books (others are in U23 and youth squads) although they have not yet recorded a competitive first-team appearance. Interestingly, both are goalkeepers. Cork's Caoimhin Kelleher made his first team debut for Liverpool this summer, as part of the club's US tour. Manchester United also hold Kieran O'Hara in their ranks. The goalkeeper is currently on loan at Macclesfield Town. Corey Whelan and Conor Masterson (both Liverpool) are others on the fringes of the first team. Troy Parrott of Tottenham (at just 17) is another very promising prospect. Most recently, Shamrock Rover's have agreed to sell their 16 year old goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu to Man City for a reported initial fee of €400,000. He is due to join next summer when his schooling ends.
Hopefully, it will not be too long before the likes of Parrott, Kelleher and O'Hara replace the names Keane and Brady above, and continue Ireland's long tradition of sending players to top English clubs.