Paul McGrath, Roy Keane & five of the most successful League of Ireland exports

While a high percentage of young Irish talent makes its way across the water at a young age, the national league has also played host to its fair share of stars
By Ryan Kelly

Irish players have long made their living overseas, often joining English and Scottish clubs in their mid-teens. It means that a large majority of the most prominent Irish players never ply their trade in their native leagues.

Indeed, the likes of Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and Shay Given have never played senior club football on home soil. However, on occasion a top-class player emerges from within the League of Ireland ranks. The Irish top flight has featured the cream of Ireland's talent.

Here are five who have gone on to make waves across the water after a spell in the League of Ireland.

James McClean - Derry City

With five goals in 21 league appearances thus far, Derry-born winger James McClean is the most recent League of Ireland graduate to have made his mark in the English Premier League.

The former Derry City star's scintillating form for Sunderland has been difficult for Giovanni Trapattoni to ignore and his enthusiasm has buoyed the Irish support.

After turning down the overtures of Nigel Worthington to play for Northern Ireland, the Creggan man was handed his international debut for the Republic of Ireland in February and noises from the Ireland camp suggest that McClean may just edge his way onto the plane to Poland.

He can still be found, from time to time, watching Derry City matches at his beloved Brandywell.

Seamus Coleman - Sligo Rovers

Everton's Seamus Coleman began his professional career as a right back for current league leaders Sligo Rovers in 2006. The Donegal man's all-action performances for the west coast club soon brought international recognition, as Don Givens quickly handed him his under-21 debut.

In January 2009, David Moyes signed Coleman for a rather modest fee of £150,000 on recommendation from former team-mate Wille McStay.

Having endured a baptism of fire in his debut for Everton against Benfica in October 2009, Coleman has since become a regular fixture for the Toffees at right wing and has won five caps for the Republic of Ireland.

Originally a GAA player, Coleman caught the eye of Sligo Rovers scouts during a pre-season friendly match for his local side, St Catherine's.

Roy Keane - Cobh Ramblers

Undoubtedly one of the most successful players to ever come out of Ireland, former Manchester United captain Roy Keane began his career at League of Ireland side Cobh Ramblers.

Then 18 years of age, Keane played for the Cork outfit for one season before being snapped up by Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in 1990.

Despite being shrouded in controversy and dividing the nation during the 2002 World Cup, Keane remains an icon of Irish football and a shining testimony to the talent that can be found in the League of Ireland.

Kevin Doyle - St Patrick's Athletic, Cork City

Current Ireland and Wolves striker Kevin Doyle joined Dublin side St Patrick's Athletic, in 2001, aged only 18.

He later moved to Cork City in 2003, with whom he won a League of Ireland medal in 2005.

The Wexford native signed for Reading in the summer of 2005 for the relatively small fee of £80,000. He had an immediate impact for the Royals, scoring an impressive 18 league goals, helping the south east side achieve promotion to the Premier League.

He has gone on to establish himself as a top-flight striker and is the current possessor of Ireland's number 9 shirt.

However, recent relegation from the Premier League with Wolves has rounded off a miserable season.

Paul McGrath - St Patrick's Athletic

Widely considered to be the most naturally-talented Irish player and remembered as a god by Aston Villa fans, Paul McGrath is yet another high-profile League of Ireland export.

A relatively late bloomer, McGrath signed for St Patrick's Athletic in 1981, aged 22, and, after just one season with the Inchicore outfit, was awarded Player of the Year.

The classy centre back was subsequently signed by Manchester United in 1982, with whom he spent several seasons before signing for Aston Villa in 1989.

It was at Villa that the former Pat's defender enjoyed the best football of his career, notably appearing and excelling for Ireland in two World Cups and winning two League Cup trophies.