By Ryan Kelly
Despite being in its infancy, 2013 is already proving to be a positive year for some League of Ireland footballers. Since the opening of the January transfer window a number of League of Ireland players have secured moves to Britain, once again serving as an enduring testimony to the quality that exists within Irish leagues.
Just a few months after getting his hands on the FAI Cup trophy with Derry City, 22-year-old Stephen McLaughlin was snapped up by English Championship side Nottingham Forest for a relatively modest fee. In truth, it was just a matter of time. McLaughlin had been hailed by the Brandywell faithful as the natural successor to James McClean upon the latter's departure for Sunderland, and he assumed the role without fuss, impressively filling the void on the left wing, with 17 goals.
Elsewhere, English Premier League side West Ham United completed the signing of precocious 18-year-old Waterford United striker Sean Maguire. The Republic of Ireland youth international finished the 2012 season with 13 goals for the Airtricity First Division side and earned himself national recognition when he was nominated for the PFAI Young Player of the Year award.
Earlier in the season, Reading signed another Irish youth international, 18-year-old Pierce Sweeney, from Bray Wanderers, while Sheffield Wednesday secured the services of Paul Corry from UCD. Strapping Bohemians defender Kevin Feely also made his way across the Irish Sea when he agreed to join Charlton Athletic.
The aforementioned players follow in footsteps of a growing number of League of Ireland graduates. Here, Goal.com takes a look at five players who have the potential to replicate their journey.
Christopher Forrester topped off a tremendous debut season with St Patrick's Athletic when he was crowned the PFAI Young Player of the Year for 2012. The 20-year-old is a wonderfully skilful attacking player capable of playing across the midfield and behind the striker.
Despite his youth, he proved to be a key member of Liam Buckley's Saints team throughout last season, where his precise passing was equalled by his keen eye for a goal, as showcased by two superbly taken goals against fierce rivals Shamrock Rovers.
Former Ipswich Town youth David Cawley joined Sligo Rovers at the beginning of the 2012 season and the Mayo native quickly established himself under Ian Baraclough. The 21-year-old midfielder's assured performances for the Bit O' Red led to his nomination for the PFAI Young Player of the Year award, where he lost out to the magnificent Christopher Forrester.
Cawley is a powerful midfielder with a great engine, but he also possesses an understated technique, which occasionally surfaces, as it did against Shamrock Rovers when he looped a delightful shot over Reyaad Pieterse off the cross bar and into the net. With a league medal to his name, Cawley should enter into the 2013 season with renewed confidence.
Derry City forward Patrick McEleney did not experience a particularly outstanding 2012 season, but such is the abundance of the 20-year-old's natural ability that it would be careless to dismiss his potential.
McEleney began his career at Sunderland before joining Derry City in 2010 where he has been deployed mostly at right wing. Possessing an uncanny ability to unlock defences as well as a powerful shot, the Candystripes starlet is already developing into a talismanic figure for Declan Devine's team.
After watching his team mates Stephen McLaughlin, Daniel Lafferty and James McClean depart the Brandywell, McEleney will be aware that a consistent season may grant him a similar fate.
Already linked heavily with a move to English Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, where he has had a trial, Ryan Brennan could find himself plying his trade in England sooner, rather than later.
The 21-year-old was an instrumental player for Drogheda United as they defied the odds to take second place in the Airtricity Premier Division and win the EA Sports Cup. Brennan's imposing physicality is an asset and it complements his undoubted technical ability, something which will surely have been noted by scouts.
A relative unknown, Barry McNamee quickly rose to prominence in the latter part of the 2012 season, where his energetic displays for Derry City appeared to catch teams unaware.
McNamee's performances were such that he managed to oust Northern Ireland international Rory Patterson from the starting line up for the FAI Cup final against St Patrick's Athletic, with Declan Devine expressing an unreserved belief in the player.
The enthusiastic 20-year-old has since had a trial with Nottingham Forest and may yet become another success-story of the celebrated Derry City youth system.
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