In this article, we will look at five young players (20 years old or under) in this season’s SSE Airtricity League Premier Division. Our data saw them as having fine breakout performances this season. Admittedly, some had previous first team experience before the 2020 season, but they established themselves as regular members of their own sides’ matchday squads this season.

The young League of Ireland player is attracting greater interest for those outside of this country. In the LOI, they are more likely to get more first-team experience under their belts before the age of 21, with some exposed to European football at an early stage of their career. When St. Mirren signed Conor McCarthy back in January, they signed a 21-year-old player who had captained his club, played in Europe, and won a League and Cup double.

Valuable experience at such a young age, and McCarthy is the template for several Irish players who will have caught the eye of many clubs outside of Ireland (young, experienced, and match-hardened).

With that in mind, here are 5 players who we feel showed plenty of potential through 2020 and will look to kick on into 2021. To qualify for the shortlist, a minimum of 360 playing minutes were required.

1. Jake O’Brien (Cork City, 597 mins played) – the player came on for the injured Alan Bennett away to Shelbourne back in September and went from strength to strength. Cork City were struggling badly at that point, so it was a baptism of fire for O’Brien.

Amongst his fellow centre halves, he ended the season as:

  • 5th overall for def. 1v1 success/90 (4.22 per game), 10th in overall def 1v1 success % (63.64%).
  • · 8th overall for tackle success/90 (0.60 per game), joint 1st in overall tackle success % (100%).
  • · 3rd in overall defensive aerial success % (73.91%).

In possession, O’Brien was solid among his fellow Cork players, 3rd in successful passes/90 (360+ mins). A real standout statistic is his progressive use of the ball. He finished 2nd among Premier Division centre halves (78.38% of pass attempts were towards the opponent’s goal) with just under 70% of these finding a teammate.

Outstanding performance output from a young player with a bright future ahead of him.

2. Niall O’Keeffe (Waterford FC, 574 mins played) – another player who was given a run in the first team after coming on just before half-time for an injured player. He slotted in seamlessly beside the experienced Robbie Weir and was an important piece in Waterford FC’s push for Europe.

Particularly useful at winning back possession, Niall featured highly in progressive regain %s (80.26%) & in def 1v1 success/90. When regaining his possession, a standout stat was that he had 100% success in attacking 1v1s and he was top among all CM/DMs in att. 1v1 success/90 (2.2 per 90 mins). A dynamic midfield player with solid possession figures also (just under an average of 30 successful passes per game, 82% pass completion rate and just under 3 in every 5 passes towards the opponents’ goal.

3. Tyreke Wilson (Waterford FC, 1550 mins played) – already named in our team of the season, Tyreke had a great first season in the LOI. In an attacking sense, Wilson scored once, three assists & created 18 chances for teammates. He stood out from his fellow left-backs as #1 in: successful tackles/90, blocked crosses, def. aerial success %, successful crosses/90 and pass completion %.

His consistency at LB is enhanced by coming in second highest across: goals scored, def 1v1 success/90, clearance success/90, progressive regains %, blocked shots and att 1v1 success/90.

4. Dean Williams (Shamrock Rovers, 390 mins played) – a player who featured prominently this season in both the Premier Division and First Division. Our performance data relates to Premier Division only, but this data alone is quite impressive.

Defensively, the player was impressive compared to other ATTs. 7th in def. 1v1 successes/90, first for progressive regains % (100%), and 2nd in tackle success/90. Living the Rovers’ attitude of defending from the front.

In an attacking & possession sense, the player was 2nd among other ATTs for chances created/90, 3rd in successful passes/90, 2nd in pass completion %s and 3rd in progressive pass completion %s. Not surprising for a player in a Shamrock Rovers jersey. If his end-of-season involvement is anything as a guide, a big 2021 will be expected from the player.

5. Dawson Devoy (Bohemians, 524 minutes played) – the final player in our standout list and yet another player from the production line at Bohs. A tricky player on the ball, #1 in att. 1v1 successes/90 and 3rd in overall att. 1v1 success % (for any AM/CM role). The player led all other AM/CMs in chance creation/90 as well and quite tidy in possession also.

He linked up well with Andre Wright when playing just in behind and was equally comfortable in playing a deeper, central role when required. A player who seems destined for big things and one who will certainly be one to watch in 2021.