2018 is set to be a big year for emerging stars. Many are looking to force their way into the reckoning to play at the World Cup, while others are simply looking to make the breakthrough as a pro footballer. Despite the fallout from the play-off defeat to Denmark, the Republic of Ireland have a good group of young talents on the periphery right now and they’re just starting to show what they’re about at their clubs. With manager Martin O’Neill pledging to introduce new blood, which five players should we be keeping an eye on over the course of the next 12 months?
Declan Rice is a 19-year-old centre half who is equally adept at playing in a defensive midfield role and has even lined out as a full back. The West Ham youngster has finally made his breakthrough into the first team and is now a regular in David Moyes’ match day 18. A lot was going wrong at West Ham over the first few months of the season and Rice was certainly a shining light in the darkness. He’s arguably the best prospect at the club right now.
Like Rice, Ronan is another 19-year-old with a big future ahead of him. The central midfielder has appeared for Wolves in all of their cup games this season and has also made three substitute appearances in the league. He’s since been loaned out to League One play-off hopefuls Portsmouth where he has hit the ground running, featuring in all of the games for them since his temporary switch. Ronan also made a memorable appearance against Man City in the EFL Cup for all the right reasons too.
Still only 21, Jack Byrne is a central midfielder who likes to attack. He’s a former Manchester City trainee who struggled to find his feet in spells at both Blackburn Rovers and Wigan but he seems to have found his home at Oldham in League One. While Byrne has four goals this season. Oldham are in danger of being caught up in relegation battle with Unibet betting site for example placing them at 6/4 to face the drop. Byrne is a player who can certainly play at a higher level and a move could be in the offing over the next 12 months if he can fulfil his potential and showcase his talents at Boundary Park.
Josh Cullen is another player who has come through the West Ham youth set-up and is now starting to show that he’s got real ability. The 21-year-old central midfielder has had loan spells at Bradford City and most recently Bolton Wanderers. He’s since been recalled and is now finding himself involved with the first team at the London Stadium. He’s played in the FA Cup for the Hammers this season and Irish fans will be hoping it won’t be too long before he gets on the pitch in the league.
The Republic of Ireland have had some superb centre backs over the years and they may just have another on their hands in Stoke City’s Ryan Sweeney. The 20-year-old is yet to make his first team bow for the Potters but is currently really impressing in League One with Bristol Rovers. It’s likely that he will be back out on loan next season too but at a higher level to aid his development. He could even find himself in the first team picture at Stoke sooner rather than later, especially if they drop into the second tier.