Ireland's star performers at Euro 2016 will lead the team into the next era

Seamus Coleman, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick form the backbone of our next group of leaders

Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, Ireland

Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Major tournaments can sometimes mark the end of an era, but they often also show us a vision of the future.

While Robbie Keane, John O'Shea and Shay Given are among a clutch of loyal servants who are likely to move on, Ireland found leadership from a generation in their mid-20s once the tournament kicked off.

We had the oldest squad heading into Euro 2016, with many key players in their 30s. That also includes stalwarts like Jonathan Walters, Glenn Whelan and Wes Hoolahan, who may still have a future in the short-term. But younger players who had already emerged have taken the mantle of responsibility for future campaigns.

That is encouraging, especially as there is still an issue when it comes to player development in Ireland and we do not have the type of conveyor belt of talent that the likes of a Croatia or Belgium can avail of due to structural shortcomings.

Seamus Coleman, who is already 27, wore the armband for the victory against Italy and the unfortunate defeat to France. He rarely put a foot wrong this summer and showed leadership in his own way - principally by example.

We could call the Everton full-back a future captain, but he's already got the armband around his bicep.

 

 

Even if you were to take his goal and penalty in consecutive games against Italy and France out of the equation, Robbie Brady's versatility has to be admired. In those final two games, he became an integral part of an energetic engine room around long-time friend and youth football colleague Jeff Hendrick.

Brady already takes responsibility for set-pieces, and even though he had made an impact in the qualifiers, especially with his goal in the playoff against Bosnia, the Norwich player grew as an influence at Euro 2016 which will be a boost in the future. He will carry the experience of a successful Gallic summer with him as he continues to grow.

Another player who grew metaphorically was Hendrick. We have lacked a box-to-box player in midfield in recent years, but the 6'1" Derby midfielder is the nearest thing to that for Ireland, bringing energy, technical ability and a willingness to shoot from range. A fringe figure at the start of the qualifiers, he became more prominent as time went on before becoming one of the first names on the team sheet at Euro 2016.

He is 24, just like Brady. Adding to that mix for the 2018 and 2020 qualifiers are Shane Long (29), James McCarthy who will hopefully be deployed as the shield rather than the spear in midfield from now on, in place of Glenn Whelan. He is just 25 as well, so his peak is yet to come.

James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and Shane Duffy ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Shane Duffy may have erred at times against France, but he has also emerged as a centre-back to rely on in the future as a physically imposing 24-year-old who still has plenty to learn - especially given defenders peak after the age of 28. Lest we forget, he lost a number of months of his career to injury, particularly a worrying one that left him with a damaged liver.

Ciaran Clark too is also in his mid-20s and will hopefully recover from the own goal against Sweden and being dropped after two games.

Harry Arter is also only in his mid-20s and although he missed Euro 2016 through injury, he has the type of game to suit the diamond-like formation that worked well in France. He showed that in the Man of the Match display against Netherlands in the pre-tournament friendly.

Darren Randolph (29) is also relatively young for a goalkeeper and with Kieren Westwood (31) as his nearest rival, we're not as badly stocked between the sticks as we may thought leading up to the tournament.

As for the generation below the mid-20s brigade, there is excitement over Peterborough's ex-League of Ireland playmaker Chris Forrester (23) and Jack Byrne who has had a positive season of Dutch top flight football under his belt before he returns to Manchester City, and a potential new loan move next season.

The future is unpredictable and once the dust settles there must be renewed focus on player development pathways in the League of Ireland and beyond.

But Euro 2016 suggests it will be a little brighter than we would have thought.