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Premier League Preview: Jose’s Blues Are The Boys To Beat

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With the new Premier League season fast approaching, it’s hard to look beyond an old foe of many managers and fans alike from stealing the limelight once the season gets underway.

This summer’s transfer window and indeed all of the summer’s talk has been shaped around three men, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Arsenal’s pursuit of the Uruguayan, Wayne Rooney and his transfer request and Spur’s Gareth Bale who is being courted by Real Madrid.

One team, with the exception of a handful of Rooney rumours, has slipped under the radar as they plan to wrestle back a title that they won back to back in 2005 and 2006, and they have Jose Mourinho back to steer them there. Continue reading

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Five Irish Players Who Need A Move This August

kdAs all football fans know, the summer transfer window is a time of upheaval with fresh starts, new challenges and last chances for managers and players alike. However, sometimes there is a select few players that may be in need of a move to rekindle or enhance their international career.

Here we take a look at five Irish stars who all need a move before the transfer window slams shut at the end of August. Continue reading

Key Battles: Borussia Dortmund V Bayern Munich

Jerseys of German football clubs BayernWhen Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich line out on Saturday night in Wembley Stadium, the very first all-German final, there will be a number of battles which could shape the destiny of the trophy nicknamed “Big Ears”. The more experienced Munich side will be making their third appearance in a Champions League final in four years, whereas Dortmund will have youth and attack on their side. Continue reading

Young Irish Abroad #6 Karl Sheppard

Rather fittingly, Reading have signed a young Irish Striker from the League of Ireland.

That striker is Karl Sheppard, who moves to Berkshire from back to back League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers. The Ireland under 21 cap was born in Dublin on 14 February 1991. Sheppard began his career with Portmarnock and played at schoolboy level for Shelbourne, before joining Everton in 2007. Sheppard never really got up and running for Everton, failing to break into the first team, and came back to the Emerald isle to sign for Galway United in 2010.

 The Dublin native impressed for the Tribesmen, scoring a handful of goals and playing the majority of games that season. The displays Sheppard showed in April of that year seen him win the Airtricity SWAI Player of the Month Award. Sheppard’s parting gift to Galway was the winner in the promotion/relegation playoff, keeping United afloat.

He then moved onto to reigning champions Shamrock Rovers for the 2011 season, where he won the league, Setanta Cup and scored in the Europe League Group stages against PAOK Salonika. This was enough to alert Brian McDermott and Reading, who have good history in bringing Irish strikers through. Sheppard is very comfortable being the lone striker but he was forced to operate from the right hand side from time to time last season. His move to Reading will now give him the platform to fulfil his undoubted potential.

When asked about his Irish predecessors at Reading, he said “”It was massive, seeing the likes of Kevin Doyle and Shane Long come over and do well, and Hunty as well, it’s a good thing,” he said in his first interview on Reading FC Player. “The history of bringing good Irish players through is something that intrigued me into coming here. There was interest from a few other Championship clubs as well but once I heard that Reading were in, there was only one club for me.”

Young Irish Abroad #5 Greg Cunningham

20 year old Galway native Greg Cunningham is the first player to feature in the series “young Irish abroad” that has been capped for Giovanni Trappatoni’s Ireland.

The young star has resurfaced as an emerging young talent following a serious injury picked up at the start of 2011. The Manchester city left full back fractured his tibia while on loan at Leicester City. At the time he had shown much promise playing twelve games, until being ruled out for 4 months.

For Cunningham, who began his career with Mervue United, the emergence of Stephen Ward as an Ireland regular has been a disappointment for him, as Ward has all but sewn up that role for the European Championships. The former Mervue star is currently on loan at Nottingham Forest, and is in a consistent run of form, starting the last seven on the bounce. He is a good strong naturally left footed full back, and can play left midfield also. His relative youth means he is a definite star in terms of the future, but his experience in Trap’s set up, having played three times since his debut against Algeria in the RDS. His recovery back from a bad injury also shows a battling quality and determination which is to be admired in any player.

Cunningham, who is 21 in the new year, knows that it will be difficult to shuffle his way back into Trapattoni’s plans before the EURO 2012 squad is announced “It would be brilliant to even get the attention of Mr Trapattoni over the next few months, of course I would love to play in the finals like every Irish player,” Cunningham said speaking to the Evening Herald arlier this year. “It’s going to be very difficult for any of us young lads to get into that squad but I want to make it hard for the manager to not pick me, that means doing as well as I can for Forest — or Man City if I go back there when the loan is up in the New Year.”

Like previous players in the series, he will find it very difficult to get into the squad, but will strive to be there none the less.

Young Irish Abroad #4 James McClean

The Airtricity League is by no means known as a contributor when it comes to footballers for its national team, but after Keith Fahey, read James McClean.

The Derry born winger has declared for the Republic after rejecting a call up to represent Northern Ireland. “It was a blow seeing Irish League players being called up before me to the Northern Ireland squad, but having got the call I was relieved,” McClean said in the Belfast Telegraph. “However, it’s always been my dream to play for the Republic and hopefully that will become a reality now that I’m going to be a Sunderland player.” This was McClean speaking in August 2011 and now that he is a Sunderland player; his dream may well come true.

He is a player who is quite like the Robbie Brady, who we featured in week one,  but is more comfortable out wide left. He began his career playing with Derry City, where he made 73 appearances and scored 18 goals. His £350,000 move to Sunderland, triggered a call up to the Northern Irish Squad in the IFA’s mind, but it triggered much better thoughts in James’ mind if you’re a Republic fan.

The exciting winger is yet to prove himself on Wearside, but his exciting performances for Derry and his seven appearances as a youth player for the North show some signs of greatness, while his performances at the Dublin Super Cup may have sealed the deal in Sunderland’s eyes.  That tournament did field some criticism from within the league in Ireland, but it has seen Daniel Kearns and James McClean move across the water, as well as massive interest in Daryl Kavanagh of St Patricks Athletic and Derry full back Daniel Lafferty too.

The manager who signed McClean for Sunderland, Steve Bruce, has recently been sacked and proud Northern Irish man Martin O’Neill has taken over. This can be viewed two different ways for McClean. O’Neill could snub the Northern Irish born Republic star, or he could embrace his young talent and nurture him to becoming a top player like he did with Aiden McGeady at Celtic. The experience and fair nature of the former Wycombe, Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa manager would lead me to believe the latter.

If McClean can race his way into the Sunderland side from the bench, then we may see a new talent emerge for the Boys IN Green. Of all the players reviewed so far, and still to be reviewed, I feel that James McClean is the rawest, but has the potential to be exciting for the Republic beyond 2012.

Follow Sunderland AFC winger James McClean on twitter @JMcC19.

Ireland drawn against Spain and Italy at EURO 2012

Ireland narrowly missed a reunion in European Championship terms with England, but drew manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s home nation instead.

The boys in green will also face current World and European champions Spain, aswell as Slaven Bilic’s Croatia. Drawn in Group C, the Irish will find it difficult to qualify from the group, but  they can take solace in the fact that they have performed solidly against bigger nations under Giovanni Trappatoni’s stewardship.

Ireland’s group games will begin in Poznan, where they will face Croatia on June 10. The group will finish with an interesting tie against Italy back in Poznan, after Spain take on the Boys in Green on June 14 in Gdansk. Controversial RTE pundit Eamon Dunphy expressed his opinion on the draw, “I don’t think it is terrifying. It is challenging, but there are worst draws.”

The travelling waves of supporters are likely to be delighted with the locations, as Poznan and Gdansk are both strong footballing areas. The games will also be exciting for fans, as Trap and Tardelli will be able to pit their wits against some of Europe and the World’s greatest.

Another side issue from the draw is that a money spinning friendly against our Anglo rivals is now back on the cards in the Aviva in the months preceding the finals.

Elsewhere Germany and Netherlands will face off in group C, while France and England will also tackle each other in Group B.

 

GROUP A GROUP B GROUP C GROUP D
Poland Netherlands Spain Ukraine
Czech Republic Denmark Rep. of Ireland France
Greece Portugal Croatia Sweden
Russia Germany Italy England
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