In the news recently, it was announced that Bray Wanderers youngsters Andrew Moran and Leigh Kavanagh have signed for Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion. The two 16-year-olds have come through the St Joseph’s Boys/ Bray Wanderers academy system that is in place.
Moran who would be classed as a playmaker in the middle of the field made the Wanderers history with two fine achievements. He was the club’s youngest ever debutant at just 15 years and 307 days when he came off the bench against Cobh Ramblers in August 2019. It was a significant moment for the Ireland U17 international and one I’m sure he’s proud of.
He described the moment as ‘what dreams are made of’ to Extra.ie. ‘I wasn’t expecting to be called up for such a big game before the play-offs. I knew it would come eventually but I didn’t expect it so soon.’ The excitement he felt duly paid off as he managed to grab an assist in a 6-0 win.
Only as recently as February 28th, he got his first goal in a 2-0 home in against Wexford. It was that finish that made him the youngest Bray Wanders player to score at 16 years and 135 days. Unexpectedly, it’s turned out to be his last league game for the club due to the football shutdown.
I can imagine the experiences he’s gained at such a young age have matured him massively. Even if you compare him to someone like Ireland U18 midfielder Joe Hodge who’s yet to play a first-team game. Hodge is no doubt a top talent but you’d think it’s unlikely he’ll make an appearance for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City anytime soon. Granted the level in England is much higher. But you can’t underestimate the advantage someone like Moran now has because he’s played first-team football over someone who hasn’t, whatever the level is.
Leigh Kavanagh has had a similar upbringing to Moran. His impressive performances in pre-season back in January/February led to his debut in that Wexford game also. Both will be going over to England now in ideal confidence and form.
At Brighton, there are two other former LOI youngsters within the club’s academy system. Warren O Hora (20) and James Furlong (18) have also benefitted from first-team action in the League of Ireland before heading over to the UK. The latter was thrown right in the deep for Shamrock Rovers in a crucial game away to Dundalk last season. The brave selection from Stephen Bradley proved to be a success. He showed maturity beyond his years. This solid performance led to a pretty decent U17 Euro Championships on home soil. His left foot was an ever-present in that tournament with two of the Irish goals coming off the back of his set-pieces.
He was well and truly on the market now and Brighton picked him up where he has since made 13 appearances for the U18 side along with one appearance in the 23s Premier League. The Shamrock Rovers Academy is now well recognized with Furlong following in the footsteps of Bazuna with a move to England. Funnily enough, we must give another shoutout to St Joseph’s to where he was prior to his Rovers days. He’s a talented individual and I’ve no doubt he’s enjoyed his first season with Brighton.
Onto the Northside of Dublin where Warren O Hora was given his chance by Keith Long. A run of 11 games from June during the 2017 League of Ireland season showed us his qualities. Brighton signed him up in January of 2018 and of course, he jumped at the chance. He’s unfortunately not played first-team football since his spell on home soil. However, he was rewarded with a new contract a few weeks back. That might just show that he still has a chance of Graham Potter giving him an opportunity.
He’s been an ever-present for the U23 side that’s for sure. 15 appearances this season, missing just three games and two of them were through injury. Strong in the air, comfortable on the ball with slick passing. He’s got to be confident of making his first-team bout soon. An appearance on the bench in the League Cup is all he has so far. But his Irish club mate Aaron Connolly will give him and the rest of our Irish lads at the club, the realization that a breakthrough is possible.
There can’t be many academies over in the UK that has so many promising Irish talents within their systems. Hopefully, these lads can bare fruit and they can all go on to represent the league on the big stage. The fact they’ve all already played first-team football on these shores will be of massive aid to their careers.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the SSE Airtricity underage leagues might not be 100% perfect. But they are certainly benefiting the youth of today right across the country. These four players are just some of the many examples. As long as clubs receive the correct amount of money and the individuals feel ready to go over, there is no problem with the English poaching our players. It can only bold well for the future of the game in Ireland if we can give them a first-team opportunity here before they go over.