68 goals in 146 games. Robbie Keane was a phenomenon for Ireland. A goalscoring machine. To put it into context. Ireland’s previous highest scorer was Niall Quinn with 21 goals. When you turned up at the Aviva Stadium to watch the Boys in Green in action you expected Robbie Keane to score.
Replacing Robbie is surely an impossible task. Some players have been identified as potential goal scoring successors. However, the likes of Troy Parrott, Adam Idah, Aaron Connolly and Michael Obafemi have been unable to become Robbie’s heir apparent due to not quite being at the required level, inconsistent form, injuries or off field issues. But we live in hope that we can find us a regular goal scorer.
On Saturday 31st December 2022, Evan Ferguson announced his arrival on the big stage with a goal against Arsenal. He followed up that first ever Premier League goal with another goal and an assist on his full Premier League debut against Everton at Goodison Park. It has been a meteoric rise for the 18-year-old. A native of Bettystown in County Meath, Evan comes from good footballing stock, with his Father Barry having played professionally in England for the likes of Colchester United, Hartlepool and Northampton Town.
Evan began his playing career at St Kevin’s Boys in Dublin (an excellent club for any young player to begin learning their trade), before moving on to the youth system at Bohemians. It was at Bohs that Ferguson made his debut in senior football on 11th July 2019 in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea in a friendly at Dalymount Park. Aged just 14 at the time the young man was already earmarked as a star in the making. In January 2021 he signed for the academy of Brighton and Hove Albion (who beat off competition from :Liverpool for his signature). And after starring for Brighton’s under-23s, he signed a long-term contract at the club until 2026.
Ferguson has represented Ireland at under-15, under-17 and under-21 level, and was called up to the senior squad for the first time in November 2022 for friendlies against Norway and Malta, making his senior debut in the Norway game as an 89th minute substitute for Alan Browne. Ferguson is a physical specimen. Tall, imposing, and athletic, he could be just what Ireland are looking for. He has a presence that is sure to give defenders an uncomfortable time. Most impressive about him though is that he is both humble and hard working. In his post-match interviews following the Arsenal and Everton games he belied his tender age as he came across as a very level headed young man who is taking all of this in his stride.
He has been catapulted into the high intensity world of Premier League football and with that comes pressure and exposure. There will be bumps along the way. He will have bad games. He will go on goal droughts. But if managed correctly we have an outstanding prospect on our hands. Brighton is the right environment for him now. He has some of his fellow countrymen for company (Andrew Moran and Jamie Mullins – another ex Bohs player at the East Sussex club). And a Manager (Roberto De Zerbi) who speaks highly of him and who wants to nurture and protect him.
Manager Stephen Kenny and the Ireland coaching staff know that there needs to be a cautious approach to his development. It is only the start of his fledgling career, and a long road lies ahead, but Ireland fans will be hoping that this sensational young prospect will give us the regular goal scorer that we crave and that has been badly missing since a certain Robbie Keane hung up his boots. Exciting times ahead but let’s be patient with this gem of a player.
James, The Green Machine Podcast