Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah, Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi: The Premier League's new Irish strikers
By Brian Barry
Last Updated: 10/01/20 11:46am
The post-Robbie Keane era has not been kind to the Republic of Ireland's goal-scoring stats.
Remarkably the national team's last 17 goals have been scored by 17 different players, highlighting the lack of a prolific, top-level striker.
The Republic of Ireland scored just seven goals in their eight Euro 2020 Group D qualifying matches, which included two games against bottom seeds Gibraltar
But seemingly when it rains, it pours.
Enter Michael Obafemi, Aaron Connolly (both 19), Adam Idah (18) and Troy Parrott (17); four Irish teenagers who have all featured in the Premier League this season.
Obafemi and Connolly, both already boasting senior competitive caps, have installed themselves as first-team forwards for Southampton and Brighton respectively.
Obafemi's winner at Stamford Bridge was one of the standout strikes of the festive period, while Connolly's October double against Tottenham heralded his arrival at the top level.
Although the two 19-year-olds are more established at this stage, perhaps the younger duo have displayed more consistent goal-scoring exploits.
Idah did not taken long to show just what he can do for Norwich. Bolstered by his Premier League debut, coming on as a late substitute against Crystal Palace last week, he seized his opportunity with a hat-trick in the FA Cup win over Preston three days later.
Parrott has not quite made the same impact at senior level, but time is certainly on his side. Impressive showings for the Spurs age-group teams led to his Premier League bow against Burnley, after which Jose Mourinho handed the young Dubliner the match ball. Such is the esteem Parrott is held in at the north London club, it's believed he's set to sign a new long-term contract.
With Harry Kane ruled out until April amid a growing injury list at the club, Parrott may get further chances in the coming months.
So what are the four stars' prospects? Current trajectories suggest bright futures, but caution ought to be urged.
The last time four Irish teenagers played in a Premier League season came in 2011/12, when Matt Doherty, Michael Harriman, Anthony Forde and Samir Carruthers made appearances. In truth, only the current Wolves wing-back fulfilled his footballing potential.
Nonetheless, precedent and previous trends will do little to dampen the growing hype if the goals keep on coming.
What has brought about this upturn in fortunes of Ireland's production lines? Why has the conveyor belt of talent sprung to life once again?
"There are a lot of variables that come into play," Niall Harrison, the head of the FAI's Emerging Talent Programme tells Sky Sports.
"In the past 12 years, there have been changes in how we develop players in this country. There have been changes in coach education. There's been changes in structures within the national leagues, within player development, and I think all of that, not any single one element, has led to where we are at the moment with quite a strong group of players at the U21 age group."
Indeed, such structures are in place that they hope to continue producing top quality underage stars on a consistent basis.
"I do think that because of the various elements that have been positively changed, I think we do have a really, really good chance now of having something that's sustainable and of a high level," continued Harrison.
"But of course there's still a hell of a lot of work to do if we want to match the likes of England, Holland, Portugal, Croatia, Germany, that's where we want to be with our players.
"We think we're in a good place with quite a bit of it. But there's still a hell of a lot of work to do."
A new era of Irish football?
Regardless of what transpires over the coming months, as the Republic of Ireland bid to qualify for Euro 2020 in which they would have home games in Dublin, Mick McCarthy will be departing as manager.
Replacing the veteran boss will be Stephen Kenny - currently in charge of the national U21 side.
Although Kenny may not boast the experience of his soon-to-be predecessor, he does have a working relationship with the country's new wave of talent.
Since the former Dundalk manager took the reins, the Irish have stormed to the top of their U21 Euro 2021 qualifying group which contains Italy, Sweden and Iceland. At a grade in which the country have struggled of late, this latest generation have torn up the script.
What's more, Kenny has the team playing more attacking, dominating possession and looking to outplay their opponents.
So, despite the well-publicised troubles on a governance level, it seems Irish football's on-field prospects are bright.
Should the stocks of Idah, Obafemi, Parrott and Connolly continue to rise, they could become household names in England's top tier and lead the line for the Irish national side in the coming years.
Watch this space.