In the build-up to the World Cup in 2002 Ireland manager Mick McCarthy declared that he could call upon one of the strongest groups of goalkeepers in international football. With Shay Given as the incumbent, competition for the No. 1 jersey was provided by Dean Kiely and Alan Kelly, whilst Nick Colgan couldn’t even make the squad. As that generation has moved on, it is noteworthy that the production line of quality Irish goalkeepers has slowed considerably during the intervening period.
Most Irish fans will be aware of Manchester City’s highly rated young goalkeeper, Ian Lawlor. He has already been a substitute for City’s first team and travelled to the United States with Martin O’Neill’s senior squad for last year’s end of season friendlies. If Lawlor progresses as we hope he will, he might well face competition from a group of first and second generation Irish ‘keepers that are on a road less travelled. Ryan Meara, Justin Merz, Sean McDermott and Liam Bossin are all currently plying their trade beyond the normal breeding grounds offered by Irish and British clubs.
Ryan Meara was born in the United States and is currently on the books of his hometown club, the New York Red Bulls. For the 2015 season he was sent on loan to New York City FC. He qualifies to play for Ireland through his grandparents and was called up to the Ireland Under-21 squad in April 2012. Unfortunately, the Red Bulls stepped in to prevent him travelling to Ireland, as they wanted him to remain in the US. As the call-up was not for a full senior international the club was within its rights to interject. This means that Meara has not yet had an opportunity to represent Ireland at any age level.
In June 2014, Ireland used the Red Bulls’ training facilities prior to a friendly against Portugal and Meara joined Martin O’Neill’s squad for training. With a height of 6ft 4in Meara is a commanding presence and has the natural attributes that could take him a long way in the game. However, he has struggled to secure first team football over the past two seasons and at the age of 24, time may be running out for his prospects of an Ireland career.
Justin Merz was born in Germany and qualifies to play for Ireland through his maternal grandmother. After being alerted to his eligibility Noel King called him up for the Under-21 friendly against Qatar in 2014. At that time Merz was on the books of Bundesliga club Karlsruhe and playing for their reserve team. He was released by Karlsruhe in the summer of 2014 and is now at FC Union Berlin, which is in the second tier of German football.
It is worth noting that Justin Merz is not the first goalkeeper from the continent to gain the attention of the FAI. Back in the late ’90s, a young Dutch-born ‘keeper called Wesdie Abdelaziz won underage caps for Brian Kerr whilst he was playing with FC Haarlem. Nor is Merz the first German-born player to declare for Ireland. A young Borussia Dortmund defender called Patrick Kohlman also won underage caps under Kerr and went on to play for the Ireland Under-21s in 2003/2004. If Justin Merz is to succeed where Abdelaziz and Kohlman failed he’ll need to make the breakthrough at a higher level than he’s currently operating at.
Sean McDermott was born and bred in Norway and is the son of a Donegal man. He signed for Arsenal at the age of 16 and also had a loan spell with Leeds United. He was released by Arsenal in the summer of 2012 and returned to play in the Norwegian league with Sandnes Ulf.
McDermott played for Ireland at Under-17 and Under-19 levels before going on to win six Under-21 caps in 2013 – 2014. McDermott will be 22 later this week so still has time on his side. However, now that he is overage for the Under-21 team one ventures that he’ll need to secure a move back to England in order to stay on the radar of the Irish set-up.
Liam Bossin was born in Belgium and qualifies to play for Ireland through his mother who hails from Waterford. Bossin is only 18 but has had an impressive career trajectory to date. He made his debut in senior football at the age of 16 for Belgian second division club White Star Woluwe. Bossin joined Anderlecht in May 2013 and last week he signed a new two-year contract at Anderlecht.
Liam Bossin made his debut for the Ireland Under-19 team against Romania at Turners Cross in March 2014. Noel King named him in the Under-21 squad to face an England selection on Friday, 5th June. At 18 years of age Bossin is the youngest of the four goalkeepers on this list. However, given his current status at club level, he is perhaps the one most likely to ultimately make the breakthrough to an Irish senior squad.
It is encouraging to see a crop of young goalkeepers emerge through the diaspora and some credit must go to the FAI for casting the net wider than normal. It would certainly benefit Ireland if one or more of the young goalkeepers could make an impact in their respective leagues and provide options for the senior team over the coming years.
- Author: Alan Hannify