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Chronicle Live
Chronicle Live
Ciaran Kelly

Newcastle's first summer signing to come from FFP goldmine and 'serious talent' already found

Newcastle United will soon have permanent scouts based in South America, but the Magpies are also looking closer to home for emerging talent for the academy. In fact, in the last year alone, Newcastle have agreed deals for a pair of Ireland under-19 internationals, Alex Murphy and Reece Byrne, and that is not a coincidence.

Although Irish youngsters now have to wait until they are 18 to move to England because of Brexit, the Common Travel Area arrangement means they do not need a work permit like a player of the same age from further afield. Byrne, as a result, has been able to follow in Murphy's footsteps as the club's first signing this summer.

Given how difficult it is for prospects from elsewhere to claim a GBE - that is one of the reasons why Newcastle are looking at the multi-club model to farm these talents out to a European side to get the required experience - the Emerald Isle is attracting its fair share of Premier League talent spotters. Few know that better than Patrick Conliffe, a Dublin-based FA intermediary with the PLG Group, who represent, among others, Liverpool defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson and West Ham star Jarrod Bowen.

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"There are lots of eyes on the ground," the Irishman told ChronicleLive. "There has never been as many eyes on Irish football, that's for sure, since I've been doing this."

Clearly, something is stirring across the water. While it is important to stress that rankings are not a benchmark at youth level, as recently as January, UEFA ranked Ireland's under-19s in eighth place while the under-17s were in ninth. The under-21s, meanwhile, have reached an all-time high of 19th despite an exceptional number of players stepping up to the senior team under Stephen Kenny in recent years.

The name on everyone's lips, of course, is Evan Ferguson, who has scored eight goals in his last 18 games for club and country, and the Brighton striker looks destined to one day become the most expensive Irish footballer of all-time by some distance - even after agreeing a new long-term deal with the club. That won't come as a surprise to Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth, who was Brighton's technical director when the Seagulls picked up Ferguson from Bohemians in January, 2021, and the 52-year-old helped ensure such talents had a pathway to the first team.

In fact, Ferguson is just one of a number of Irish youngsters who have made the journey across to the South Coast in recent years. While Ferguson has been the biggest success story by far, others like Aaron Connolly, Jayson Molumby and Andrew Moran have also gone on to represent the first team. Those who have eventually had to move on, such as Molumby, have ended up generating sizable profits for the club, and becoming good traders is what Newcastle need to do to continue to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations.

So how did Brighton get ahead of the pack? Well, former academy manager, John Morling, previously managed Ireland's under-15, under-16 and under-17s sides and had the inside track on those coming through with his contacts across the water.

Those links were invaluable. For Pat Devlin, the head of football at Bray Wanderers, whose school of excellence was once partly funded by Newcastle, it's 'all about connections'.

"It is about knowing the scene and having people around that know the scene from under-13s all the way up," he told ChronicleLive. "John was very well-connected and did a great job at Brighton and Brighton have done really well. What's the value of Evan Ferguson now?

"It's fantastic for everyone involved in the game over here and it's only starting - it will bomb on. Dan Ashworth will know and will get tipped off about it. That's what happens."

The reality is that, even with these tip-offs, Newcastle face intense competition. League of Ireland Premier Division and First Division games were finally made available on WyScout around three years ago and a number of Premier League clubs now have full-time scouts on the ground.

Brexit has proved a game-changer, as mentioned, and there has certainly been a lot of movement in the last 18 months. Brighton have signed Jamie Mullins from Bohemians, Andy Moran from Bray Wanderers and Mark O'Mahony from Cork City. Crystal Palace have brought in Jake O'Brien and Franco Umeh-Chibueze from Cork City and Killian Phillips from Drogheda United while Brentford have completed moves for Val Adedokun from Dundalk and Conor McManus from Bray Wanderers. Liverpool, meanwhile, agreed a deal for Trent Kone-Doherty from Derry City and Spurs landed Josh Keeley from St Pat's.

Newcastle do not just have to compete with their top-flight rivals, either. There is also the small matter of Irish players trying their luck further afield as there are no restrictions preventing these prospects from moving to another EU country before they are eligible to go to England. Kevin Zefi, for example, is at Inter while Cathal Heffernan has pitched up at bitter rivals AC Milan; Festy Ebosele and James Abankwah are both plying their trade at Udinese; and Glory Nzingo is one to watch at Stade de Reims.

The majority of Irish youngsters, though, are spending longer at home and making the move to the UK at a later date, using the extra time to complete their secondary school studies, play men's football and mature that little bit more physically and mentally, too. Highly-rated defender Sam Curtis, for instance, became St Pat's youngest ever senior player at the age of just 14 and has since gone on to play 32 games for the club, including the Europa Conference League qualifiers against CSKA Sofia. Curtis, remarkably, is still only 17.

Similarly, Alex Murphy had already started huge First Division games for Galway United at just 17 and while the standard is relative, that experience helped the defender before his move to Newcastle last summer. Murphy has since trained with Newcastle's first team on a number of occasions and the 18-year-old even travelled to Lisbon and Riyadh for warm-weather camps.

Someone who knows all about the move Murphy has made is Jim Crawford, who joined Newcastle from Bohemians in 1995, and went on to play a couple of games for the Entertainers. It is a club that is 'still close to his heart' and Crawford even attended the Carabao Cup final at Wembley back in February. Now in charge of Ireland's under-21s, Crawford has no doubt that Murphy has a 'bright future' ahead of him.

"Alex has been on the bench in pre-season games and I know they speak exceptionally highly of him at Newcastle," he told ChronicleLive. "He certainly is a player with high potential.

"I've seen him play with our under-19s in the elite phase in March and he did well. He showed he could play centre-back and played in central midfield for the third game and didn't look out of place.

"It shows he can adapt to different positions at that age group at international level, which is a very high standard. For him to compete against Greece very comfortably in the middle of the park shows the different positions he can operate in. He is a serious talent."


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