An Irish Summer
Written by Andrew Mccarten
After the completion of a successful season, in which many predicted a quick and unceremonious return to the Championship, Wolves have managed to consolidate their Premier League status, and showed some glimpses of promise for the future with wins against Europa League finalists Fulham and Champions League qualifiers Tottenham.
Mick McCarthy may have been under fire for parts of the season, but his acquisition of Kevin Doyle from Reading proved to be one of the best bargains in Europe, and with a stable of young Irishmen in their ranks, Wolves will look to build upon this year`s success.
For the Irish contingent, then, attention turns to the international arena this summer, with the chance to impress legendary manager Giovanni Trapattoni, and hopefully earn a spot in the team come Euro 2012 qualifying.
This summer is a pivotal time for the likes of Kevin Doyle, Andy Keogh, Stephen Ward, and Kevin Foley.
All seem to figure into the Irish fold in varying degrees of importance, and this summer will be crucial, as they seek to learn as much as they can from Trap and the Irish coaching team, and put it into practice for Wolves starting next year.
So, though it does pain me greatly to say it, there are some minor positives that have resulted from our robbery in Paris.
Trap now has the time to fully examine a lot of younger/fringe players, and fully concentrate on our Euro qualifying group of Russia, Slovakia, Macedonia, Armenia, and Andorra, which does seem a bit tricky.
So without further ado, here are the effects this summer will have on Wolves Irish players!
Kevin Doyle was the player of the season for Wolves, and made many in the Premier League take notice, with Manchester United, Arsenal, and Aston Villa supposedly interested.
It seems Doyler is settled at Molineux, proclaiming in a recent story that the club "has everything going for it." He scored just 9 goals, tame by other standards, but it was enough to make up one quarter of the total goals the club scored, and is even more impressive considering he was often the lone striker.
Should Ireland have made it to South Africa, he certainly would have been one of the most confident, in-form players in the Irish squad. However, he now has the summer to improve using the advice of both Trapattoni and Keane.
A worrying tendency during the South Africa campaign was Doyle`s worrying habit of not scoring goals, as Robbie Keane was left to carry much of the load, Doyle`s renaissance in the green shirt suddenly dissipating. Although still firmly the second choice striker, behind Keane, this summer allows the Irish management to experiment with other youngsters.
Leon Best, Caleb Folan, and Shane Long have all failed to work wonders at their respective clubs, but still find themselves in the squad match after match, with Trap taking a special liking to Best.
Noel Hunt cannot seem to buy his way into the team, despite doing well at Reading, and Anthony Stokes also looks intriguing after scoring 21 league goals in his first season at Hibernian.
Doyle is the most talented player of these mentioned, aside from Keane, and looks set to take over the talisman mantle from Keane when he eventually loses his form.
If Ireland are to qualify for Euro 2012, Doyle will have a big role to play, and more goals for Wolves will only help him gain his confidence back in the green shirt.
Right back has been a problematic position for Ireland in recent years. Paul McShane has (unfortunately) been deployed there often, with John O`Shea and the aging Steve Finnan also seeing action.
With Finnan`s injury problems and McShane`s general ineptitude, the emergence of Kevin Foley for Wolves in the Championship, and this year the top flight, has seen Trapattoni take an interest, despite him often playing right midfield instead of right back. Many feel that a central defence partnership of O`Shea and Richard Dunne would be best, and a young, capable player like Foley should see a lot of action this summer in friendlies and training camps as Ireland seeks to find a back four partnership that works. If he doesn`t start (he only has 1 cap), he will at the very least see a lot of game action, which can only help his form for Wolves, with whom he is contracted to until 2013.
Andy Keogh is perhaps the most confusing of the Irish players at Wolves. There is no doubt that he is talented, but he has developed a reputation for being a bit inconsistent. After starting brightly with the lone goal at the DW, earning Wolves their first ever away win in the Premier League, injuries limited him to a handful of appearances. His versatility is what keeps him in contention for playing time with Ireland, and he is usually positioned at right midfield and even attacking midfielder, and less and less at striker.
A fully fit Keogh will have to fight to get into the Wolves side in the 10/11 campaign, with Doyle, Stefan Maierhofer, Sam Vokes, Chris Iwelumo, and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake all hoping to see more playing time, and that's without considering new additions.
His ability to play behind the main striker as well as on the wing means McCarthy may still have use of him, but he may have to move down to the Championship or north of the border if he wants to secure regular first team football. His only goal for Ireland was an injury time equalizer in a friendly against Serbia, Giovanni Trapattoni`s first match in charge of Ireland. He will really have to impress during training camps and friendlies, as well as with Wolves, if he is to build on his eleven caps for his country.
Stephen Ward is another bright young player who looks set to eventually work his way into the Irish team as the Kilbane/Finnan/Kelly/McShane (Godwilling) era of Irish defence. Probably the most versatile footballer in the UK, Ward has been used across the back line, either wing, and even at striker. His best chances probably come at left or right back; Aiden McGeady, Stephen Hunt, Liam Lawrence, and Damien Duff have will prove a tough group to crack. But with Kevin Kilbane getting ever older, and slower, and a replacement still yet to be found, the young man from Dublin could find his way into some friendly matches so the management can run the rule. His inclusion in the summer training camp squad signals that the scouting network has indeed done its due diligence, despite Ward missing much of the season with injuries. Another one for the future.
Of course, Mick McCarthy will be looking to strengthen his squad this summer in hopes of avoiding the trap door and moving up the table come next term. Never one to overlook the country he gained 57 caps for, McCarthy could be tempted by a few Irish footballers currently plying their trade elsewhere.
The first one that springs to mind is Stephen Hunt, of relegated Hull City. Hunt was a constant bright spot for an otherwise dreadful Hull, and their relegation could leave in search of top flight football despite going to Humberside just last summer. A big plus is that he considers Kevin Doyle one of his best mates, and seeing Doyle`s success at the Molineux could be a big factor.
Sean Dillon enjoyed monumental success with Dundee United this year, one of the cornerstones of their Scottish Cup winning side, and also helping them to a 3rd place finish in the SPL. A bit under the radar on many English clubs`s lists, the former Shelbourne and Longford Town defender is a low-risk, high reward buy, and probably for cheap as well.
Sean St. Ledger fought bravely for Ireland during the qualifying campaign, and was one of the more emotional players at the end of the match in the Stade de France. Recently he has been linked with a host of clubs after being loaned from Preston to Middlesbrough, with Celtic reportedly interested, but Premier League football could be vital to the development of this sturdy and reliable centre back, who can also spot at right back.
Lastly, we have Keiren Westwood, goalkeeper for Coventry City. After moving from Carlisle United to Coventry in the summer of 2008, Westwood has quickly established himself as one of the best keepers in the Championship. With Shay Given (unfortunately) not able to last forever, and considering a seeming lack of potential successors, Westwood could well be Ireland`s number one in the not so near future. Trap rates him, and given Matt Murray`s constant injury problems, Ikeme`s general level of talent, Hennessy`s inconsistency, and Hahnemann`s age, Westwood could walk into the starting role at the Molineux.
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