IRISH FOOTBALLERS IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE ISN'T EXACTLY A NEW THING. Still, the quantity and quality of players in England's top flight had started to diminish as foreign players and money entered the scene.
Back in the day, clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal contained some of the best Irish talents in their teams. But the quantity of talent has primarily made its way into clubs lower down the leagues.
Sunderland, Burnley, Derby, Wigan, and other clubs have become regular homes for Ireland's current crop of footballers. These include the likes of James Mclean at Wigan, Derby County's Jason Knight and Eiran Cashin, Burnley's Kevin Long, and Wolves' Nathan Collins, who played for Burnley to name a few.
However, players in the Premier League like Liverpool's Caoimhin Kelleher, Southampton's Gavin Bazunu, Wolves' Nathan Collins, and others are making a go in England's top league once more.
In recent years, the latest club to dip into the Irish footballing market and scout players directly from the League of Ireland is Premier League top-flight side Brighton & Hove Albion.
Brighton's innovative and cost-effective efforts in the market have become the envy of every other Premier League club.
The likes of Argentina's Alexis McAllister signed for £7m, Japan's Kaoru Mitoma was brought in for £ 4.5 million in 2021, and many others have joined the club.
Over the years, the club has also recruited several Irish internationals as part of its recruitment policy. Aaron Connolly and Jason Molumby spring to mind.
This strategy has also includef the likes of Ireland's Evan Ferguson and Andrew Moran, who have already impacted the club despite being so young.
A few weeks ago, Ferguson (18), standing at 6'ft2, announced himself on the Premier League stage by scoring past the league leaders Arsenal on his league debut.
In the same week, that teenager scored his second Premier goal against Everton with an excellent finish.
Former Bray Wanderers player and underage Irish star Andrew Moran also made his debut against Everton. The club are tipping him for big things also.
Both players are names well-known in Irish footballing circles, but I wanted to see why Brighton has decided to make Ireland a hunting ground for young Irish talent over the years.
This week the Irish Post sat down with David Wright, an Academy Player Recruitment Manager at Brighton, to discuss how Brighton operates in the market, why they scout in the League of Ireland, and what David thinks of Evan Ferguson's explosion into the scene at the tender age of 18.
"Why did Brighton choose the League of Ireland to scout young players
"We cast out nets far and wide, but the home nations are essential to us. The Irish market, we feel is a really good market to find the hidden gems and the talented boys that we feel have the potential to come over and do well, you know," said Wright.
"Without sounding disrespectful, it's a cost-effective market for as well, you know. It's where we can sort of identify talent that's not going to cost fortunes of money either, you know."
"So, we similarly scout Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, so we have a presence in all those countries and Ireland over the years has historically had a few players over the years that don't just include the likes of Evan and Andy."
He also added: "We have had a number of Irish players do well, a number of Irish players come over and go on trial, and I suppose it's just an accumulation over the years of building that network before me."
"A lot of good work went on before we were even a Premiership club. Our ex-academy manager John Morling was instrumental in that. He worked over in Ireland and brought a lot of that network with him."
"It's basically years of building a network of contacts. We haven't got a massive team over in Ireland. We have a team of one, but it's heavily supported by us over here, and in essence, the Irish market has been hugely beneficial for us."
What qualities does Brighton look for when scouting players in Ireland.?
Evan Ferguson made his debut for League of Ireland club Bohemians in a 1–1 draw with Chelsea in a friendly at Dalymount Park at 14.
Since then, he's moved to Brighton, joined their youth team, scored against Arsenal and Everton, and has even made his senior debut for the Ireland squad at 18.
Many footballers head to England with promise and potential but fail to make the grade at a young age.
We wanted to know what made Brighton go; 'Ferguson is someone that we would like to join our youth setup at such a young age'.
"We have a clear way of playing at Brighton," admitted Wright
"I am sure you have seen over the years, and even with the change of manager, Graham Potter moving on and Roberto de Zerbi coming in, there might be tweaks to it, but in terms of the style and how we play, that's sort of the Brighton model if you like," explained Wright.
"So our role is then to find players who fit that style. Obviously, it's harder to find the younger the player because you're not sure how they are going to develop.
"We try to identify players alongside that profile that we have for each role that we need, ones that can meet the potential to play how we wanna play."
"Our scout in Ireland would work to that model and try to put players forward and identify the ones that come over the long term and do well for us."
Goal 34: Evan Ferguson vs Arsenal (H) - Premier Leaguepic.twitter.com/FkyfYJfsPy
— charlie (@toomuchtrossard) January 1, 2023
What does the club expect of the young players coming through.?
"Young players are very important to us and part of the business model of the club. It's an expectation of the academy to provide a regular platform for young players to come into the first-team squad, and we are judged on that."
Wright described Ferguson's debut goal and Andrew Moran's debut this month as 'proud moments' for the club.
"It's great to see the likes of Andy and Evan breakthrough. It's a proud moment for everybody when that happens, and it's like what we say to the boys."
"We feel what got here in terms of the programmes and the staff here that we can help develop the boys, that they have got everything here that they could ever need really to achieve great things, and it's ultimately down to them to do so."
"With Evan and Andy breaking through so young, it can only bode well, but they have to keep performing and progressing, and who knows where that could lead. It's great to see what they could become."
Where David sees Andrew Moran and Evan Ferguson's careers going.
Many Ireland players have started strong in the Premier League with debut goals and stand-out performances. Still, over time the magic fades, and the hype and potential starts to fade with moves to other clubs usually coming soon after.
Aaron Connolly broke onto the scene with a goal against Tottenham but has since found it hard to get back into the Brighton team.
James Mclean also broke onto the scene for Sunderland, but the same thing happened to him.
We asked Wright the hypothetical question regarding Ferguson and Moran's future careers.
"I always like to use the word potential. They still are very young, and they are showing good scenes, which means they could move to the next level."
"I suppose it's about finding consistency levels to perform and stay in that environment regularly."
"The next challenge is to embed themselves as more of a regular in the squad and the first 11, and I think with young players, you have to take that slow, gradual approach."
"As Evan proved, not every player is the same. Every player is different. You know Evans moved through the age ranks very quickly, and Andy's moved through quicker than expected, and you look at Jason Molumby and Aaron Connoly, who have had very different careers and pathways. You can't really map it out, and everyone's different. "
"I think it's a testament to the club. Roberto and Graham deserve credit for giving these young boys their chance."
"We always felt that Evan was a talented lad, and we felt that again, that potential was there to go and do it."
"In terms of his development, he's further ahead, but unless you have a club or manager willing to put them in, you could have the best young talent in the world."
"So again, it shows our ambition and what we are trying to do with our young players. If they are good enough, they will get their chance, as we say to all the young players. We bring them all here with the hope to one day bring them into our first team, and Evan certainly fits that bracket."
"He's worked well and managed to take those chances,"
Brighton plays Liverpool at 15.00 on Saturday,
Andrew Moran made his PL debut last night!☘️
If you don’t know much about Andy watch this goal he scored and it shows you all you need to know about the lad👏🏼
He’s special, really special ✨pic.twitter.com/bAycCkQYIp
— Rep of Ireland Player Tracker (@reptracker) January 4, 2023