Thirty-seven years after a player from Saint Patrick's Athletic FC last represented the Republic of Ireland, the Dublin team will have at least two internationals at Richmond Park in the coming season.
St Patrick's manager John McDonnell has made big changes at the club which helped to produce stars such as Paul McGrath and Kevin Doyle, and which last term went close to winning the championship, finishing second behind Drogheda United FC. McDonnell aims to go one better in 2008, showing his intent with seven new signings.
Two of the arrivals, Damien Lynch and Des Byrne, have come from Irish rivals, with three imports from British sides – Jamie Harris and Bobby Ryan from Dunfermline Athletic FC, and Gary Dempsey from Yeovil Town FC. That trio know the Irish scene well, having played here previously, with Harris and Ryan winning trophies at Shelbourne FC.
However, McDonnell has attracted most attention by recruiting defenders Joe O'Cearuill and David Partridge, from Barnet FC and Brentford FC, which has raised eyebrows because of their international backgrounds. Former Arsenal FC man O'Cearuill was capped twice by the Republic of Ireland in last summer's tour of the United States. Partridge, meanwhile, has played seven times for Wales, most recently in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in 2005.
Now 29, Partridge's national-team days are probably over, but London-born O'Cearuill wants to enhance his Ireland prospects with the move to Dublin. "I am looking forward to playing regularly for St Pats," said O'Cearuill, who saw action with Ireland's Under-21s in their midweek UEFA European Championship qualifying defeat by England. "I think I showed in the U21 game against England that I can play at a high level. I want to get back to that stage as soon as possible."
Manager McDonnell expects big things from his new boys as the Saints bid to challenge Drogheda and a resurgent Bohemian FC for the title. "They are all good players but they're also experienced and that counts for a lot," he said. "Some players struggle to cope when they come to the League of Ireland, but Jamie Harris, Bobby Ryan and Gary Demspey have been here before and know what it's about."
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