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Why overseas leagues will continue to attract Ireland’s best football stars

“The current situation is unlikely to change any time soon. Several national leagues in Europe is far better than what we have in Ireland in terms of amount earned by players and what they stand to gain by way of winning honours both as a team and as individual professionals. I do not see things taking a new turn in the near future. It’s perhaps a reality we may have to live with for now while we work hard to improve our domestic situation.”


For all the passion embodied by football in the Republic of Ireland, one thing is clear: Irish top football players prefer to ply their trade abroad. The implication of this is that the country’s domestic football league, The League of Ireland, is hardly home to the best stars the country can boast of. Of all established members of the current national team, only Jack Byrne plays for a home club, Shamrock Rovers – but only after he had failed to successfully establish himself in a host of English clubs including Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic. All others play in the English League.


They include the team’s captain Seamus Coleman who plays for Everton, Enda Stevens who plays for Sheffield United, Shane Duffy who plays for Brighton & Hove Albion, Kevin Long who plays for Burnley, Glenn Whelan who plays for Aston Villa, and James McClean who plays for Stoke City.

To make matters worse, none of the players recently capped (between 2018 and 2019) but are yet to establish themselves as regulars in the national team plays for any home club, a situation that suggests that the current pattern is unlikely to reverse in the near future.

Obviously, Republic of Ireland is not the only country with her top stars plying their trade outside her borders; however, what may be worrisome is the near total “rejection” of the home soil by these football stars. In a lot of other countries with a larger proportion of their national team stars playing their club football abroad, the local league still boasts of being home to a significant number – though this varies from period to period. In contrast, the League of Ireland is invariably deserted by the nation’s best.

Robbie Keane, former national team captain and its most capped player and highest goal scorer, spent his entire 21 years senior career (between 1997 and 2018) playing for English clubs. Only the better part of his youth career was spent at home before being signed by Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1996. A similar story marks the careers of most other players that emerged as key members of The Green Army. Thus, it can be said with no fear of contradiction that the home league is more of a nursery bed for breeding players for other leagues, particularly the English League.

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