mai 29, 2023

Republic of Ireland reporter notebook: Evan Ferguson the teenager having to fill voids left by two Keanes | Football News

3 min read

« We lack a wee bit of quality upfront, » was how I remember Martin O’Neill wonderfully understating the problem, after a fourth successive scoreless game in the final throes of his time as Republic of Ireland manager.

The man who had started his reign with the country’s greatest ever goalscorer – albeit not at his peak – couldn’t be questioned for searching high and low for another Robbie Keane.

The truth though was that none of the many he auditioned could even match the Dubliner’s tumbling goal celebration, never mind the craft that led to it.

This is why there is so much excitement in Irish quarters about Evan Ferguson.

Callum O’Dowda scored the opener against Latvia

Not that he’s the new Robbie Keane – that’s a hefty mantle to place on any Irish striker never mind an 18-year-old with just five Premier League starts – but that at last they appear to have found someone who has the potential to be a cut above what we have seen at the Aviva Stadium in recent years.

Ferguson’s goal against Latvia this week on his first international start meant he became the second youngest player to ever score for Ireland.

Republic of Ireland's Evan Ferguson celebrates scoring his sides second goal against Latvia
Evan Ferguson celebrates scoring his side’s second goal

You have only one guess as to who is first. Afterwards, still holding his number 19 shirt that he would give to his parents, we asked him how he was coping with the expectation and hype surrounding him right now. « It’s just a game of football, » he smiled.

His dad Barry had an extensive career in the League of Ireland and a brief one in England, where he started at Coventry City. Back in 2019 he was a dad watching nervously as his 14-year-old son played a first senior game for Bohemians against the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta and Pedro as Frank Lampard’s Chelsea came to Dublin for a friendly.

Brighton astutely dampened the noise by taking Ferguson to England in January 2021, with Liverpool thought to be among those also interested.


On the south coast it was a home from home as Ferguson was given an Irish welcome from senior pro Shane Duffy, as well as youngsters Aaron Connelly and Jayson Molumby who would go onto play alongside Duffy at international level.

Connolly’s trajectory is a reminder that bursting onto the scene as a teenage forward in the Premier League doesn’t guarantee a straight line to the top.

A Carabao Cup goal and a first cap with a few minutes off the bench for Ireland in November continued Ferguson’s progress but few outside of club and country knew too much about this mature, politely spoken teenager.

All that has changed in less than three months though, with Premier League goals against Arsenal and Everton bookended by classy finishes in the FA Cup last Sunday, that helped take Brighton to a Wembley semi-final.

Ferguson shows his delight at scoring for his country
Ferguson shows his delight at scoring for his country

His coolness in front of goal isn’t the only thing that gives him a potentially high ceiling. Nurturing Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi has been delighted with the youngster’s ability to be « a midfielder away from goal and a striker in the final 20 yards. » One of the game’s greatest goal getters Gary Lineker said: « I see a real centre forward before my eyes. »

The sense of pride in Ireland about this prodigious young talent is obvious. It’s been a long time since their players shaped Premier League narratives. So long, that you could make an argument for Roy Keane still being the most talked about player in the country – such is the coverage he continues to get seemingly every time he speaks. He retired from playing in 2006.

Poor Evan is the teenager having to fill voids left by two Keanes.

But the early signs are wonderfully exciting. Monday night against France will tell us more.

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