As an Irish Tim, I’ve long craved for a breakthrough into the Celtic first team by some Irish starlet, ready to take club and country by storm. A Moussa Dembele if you will, but he’ll probably be called Whacker O Leary.
For me, when I think of the player that epitomises the point I’m trying to make, I think of Packie Bonner. Packie devoted his whole playing career to Celtic with over 600 appearances. He was one of the best heroes’s ever to pull on an Irish Jersey with 80 caps and a million saves.
Neil Lennon is probably the closest thing to Packie in the last decade except that he is missing the international stardom. We all know why and that it had nothing to do with his footballing ability.
We had the 2 Keanes in, who could easily be put on a shelf alongside Bonner, except that they were both 15 years on the wrong side of two very successful careers and barely gave Celtic 12 months service between them.
The Irish connection has stayed alive and well but it’s mostly been either Celtic fringe players. The likes of Paddy McCourt, Nial McGinn or Darren O Dea. Or Maybe a Stokes who done well at Celtic but was a fringe player when it came to the Irish national side.
I could mention Aidan McGeady……….but let’s not open that one up.
There is undoubtedly a healthy contingent of Scotish players making the breakthrough from our development squad into the National team. In Fact, Scotlands squad last week must have more Celtic players in it than ever before (If Armstrong/Brown were fit). So I started to question if Celtic’s scouting in Ireland has changed. The truth is they probably have more of a presence in Ireland than they did in the days when they were able to bring over players like Tully, Bonner, Rogan and Chris Morris. They run camps all through the summer for all ages. The clubs partnership programme has them plugged into 18 clubs all over Ireland.
The sad reality for Ireland at the moment is they don’t seem to be turning out players like Bonner, The Keanes, Bradys or the likes of Paul McGrath anymore. When you look at the top four in England now, they don’t contain any first-team regulars from the Irish squad. That wouldn’t have been the case right up to the early 2000’s. A lot of investment has been made in Ireland for junior football, so it’s not like nurturing talent and development have not seen investment.
So where is Whacker O Leary? I’ll live in hope. It’s a great time to be a Celtic supporter and this is just someone looking for the cherry on top