This promises to be an exciting year for the Republic of Ireland with their Euro 2020 playoff to look forward to and the start of Stephen Kenny's tenure in charge of the team.
Kenny will take over from Mick McCarthy at some point this year, but when that will be will depend on whether the Irish can get through the playoffs and reach the finals of the European Championship for the fourth time.
Ireland travel to Slovakia on March 26 in their play-off semi-final with either Bosnia-Herzegovina or Northern Ireland the potential opponent in the final five days later.
Whatever happens under McCarthy, Kenny will inherit a squad with plenty of experience, but the former Dundalk manager and Ireland's current under-21s boss will surely be eager to bring in some of the brightest talent waiting to establish themselves in the first team squad after impressive seasons so far at club level.
Liverpool look set to win their first Premier League title and while goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher has yet to make his Premier League debut, Jurgen Klopp trusted the 21-year-old from Cork in goal for the Reds' run in the Carabao Cup where he kept a clean sheet in their 2-0 win at MK Dons.
Forward Michael Obafemi, 19, made his Premier League debut in January 2018 for Southampton in a 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham and is becoming an established player under Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Saints have won the last five games Obafemi has featured in and the Dubliner scored the opener when Southampton won 2-0 at Chelsea on Boxing Day.
Hat-Trick Hero Idah
It has been a tough season for Norwich who have won just three of their 22 games on their return to the top flight, but it has seen striker Adam Idah make his breakthrough at Carrow Road. On New Year's Day, Idah made his Premier League debut in a 1-1 draw at home to Crystal Place and three days later, he scored a hat-trick as the Canaries won 4-2 at Preston to set up an FA Cup fourth round clash at Burnley.
When Teemu Pukki was ruled out of Norwich's trip to Manchester United last weekend, Idah got the nod to replace him to highlight the faith manager Daniel Farke has in the 18-year-old from Cork.
Meanwhile, Aaron Connolly has already worn the green of Ireland a couple of times and the striker will have his sights set on more caps in the coming months. Connolly has taken his chance at Brighton under Graham Potter and the 19-year-old from Galway marked his first start in the Premier League with two goals in a 3-0 home win over Tottenham on October 5.
Big things are expected from forward Troy Parrott, who marked his Premier League debut with a win as Tottenham beat Burnley 5-0 at the start of December and with Harry Kane sidelined until April, Parrott may see more action between now and the end of the season.
In the Championship, midfielder Jason Knight is relishing playing alongside Wayne Rooney at Derby. With three goals in his last three games, the 18-year-old from Dublin is putting together a strong case to be involved in the forthcoming playoff in Slovakia.
Whether they get their chance under McCarthy or his successor Kenny, this crop of youngsters are proof that Ireland's future is in very good hands going forward.
Michael Obafemi (forward, Southampton):
Adam Idah (forward, Norwich):
Aaron Connolly (forward, Brighton):
Troy Parrott (forward, Tottenham):
Jason Knight (midfielder, Derby County):
Caoimhin Kelleher (goalkeeper, Liverpool):
1 clean sheet
Former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland defender Phil Babb, capped 35 times, hopes McCarthy doesn’t dwell on promoting youth to his first team, now that they all boast first team experience.
“It’s exactly what we’ve needed,” he told bookmakers.co.uk. “We’ve been lacking in this department for some time. Obafemi took his goal at Chelsea really well and we’ve seen how busy Aaron Connolly has been for Brighton already.
“Since Robbie Keane retired, we haven’t had an out-and-out goalscorer. We’ve got players like McGoldrick who is very busy and useful but doesn’t get many goals. We’ve struggled these past few years and that’s one of the main reasons why. But these kids look great and it bodes well.
“Like a lot of us, I was sceptical about where our next group of players were going to come from. We’ve got an aging squad now and it’s been tried and trusted for a while, but we need to bring through some new blood and I’m sure Mick will do that.”
The youngest of the aforementioned, Parrott, garners the most interest from the media due to his exploits for Kenny’s in-form Under-21 team.
The striker turns 18 next month and whilst Babb has warned against the hysteria surrounding his potential, he believes Parrott’s persona is key to whether he sticks things out at Spurs or goes out on loan.
“People wax lyrical about Troy,” said Babb. “I’ve watched him a few times at under-age level and yes, he looks as though he’s got all the tools, but it’s difficult to tell.
“Is he the type of player who should go out on loan or could he break through into the Tottenham team if he stays put? He’s obviously got tremendous talent, so if he’s got the belief then maybe he should stay and try to force his way into that first team regularly.
Belief and Talent Not Always Enough
“I like Parrott, but it’s down to the individual. It’s down to his type of personnel. We see a lot of players nowadays who believe in themselves yet fail to make the breakthrough at the top level.
“I always feel as though players should be playing football as soon as they hit 18. If you’re 18 and you think you’re good enough for the first team at your club but you’re not playing at all, then you should go out on loan, go and play senior football, earn your stripes, learn your trade, and if you’re really good enough then your club will use you when you’re recalled.”
Restricted to just two cameo appearances for Tottenham despite a recent injury to talisman Harry Kane, Babb believes Parrott is tailor-made for Spurs and may be rewarded for his patience if he’s still at the club after the January transfer window.
“Parrott seems to me the type of player that Spurs would like to have on their books because he’s very technical and has got a good shot on him as well, so who knows,” he said.
“With Jose Mourinho, we know what he’s like. The thing is, are Spurs going to spend big money? No, so they have to develop the talent that they’ve already got. And if you look at the top teams in the Premier League their managers are doing that.
“Jurgen Klopp is doing it at Liverpool, Frank Lampard is doing it at Chelsea, Mikel Arteta is trying to do it at Arsenal and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying to do it at Man Utd.
“It might be something Spurs have to do too if Jose doesn’t get the money he wants. If that’s the case, then the likes of Troy will have to grasp any little chance he gets.”