Premier League 22/23: Ferguson's breakout year but Irish involvement drops to new low

THIS WAS THE Premier League season in which Evan Ferguson made a breakthrough but broader Irish involvement dwindled to a record low.

The existing record came last season, when 14 Irish players clocked a total of 9940 minutes. Ahead of this weekend’s final round, however, 11 Irish players have combined for 8960 minutes.

Even with one more round of games to go, this season’s total is highly unlikely to eclipse last season’s, as five of the aforementioned 11 are not available for the final game of this season through a combination of sales, loans, and injuries.

Another measure of dwindling Irish influence came courtesy of the Irish Abroad account earlier this season: the midweek games that took place from 25-27 April this season was the first full, 10-game round of fixtures not to feature a single Irish starter in the Premier League’s history.

Gavin Bazunu has played the highest number of Irish minutes in England’s top-flight this season (2880), followed by Nathan Collins (1724) and Seamus Coleman (1656.)

(A note – the following minute totals don’t include stoppage time, primarily to allow for a fairer comparison with previous seasons as these totals didn’t include stoppage time either. It can admittedly make a sizeable difference: Bazunu, for instance, played an additional 290 minutes of injury time across the season. And before you ask, not all of it in that mad 3-3 draw at the Emirates last month. 17 minutes, for the record.)

Bournemouth goalkeeper Mark Travers is next on the Irish list (945 minutes), followed by Evan Ferguson (860) and now-former Spurs defender Matt Doherty (667.)

Joe Hodge broke into the Wolves team before the arrival of Julen Lopetegui and clocked 169 minutes, with Tom Cannon playing 25 minutes for Everton before leaving for Preston on loan. Shane Duffy has played just 20 minutes across five appearances for Fulham, while Andrew Moran played 12 minutes on his Premier League debut. Conor Coventry and Connor Ronan made token one-minute Premier League appearances for West Ham and Wolves respectively.

Ferguson’s emergence has been sensational, and he has signed contract extensions (two) at the rate other young Irish strikers have scored Premier League goals in recent years. He would have clocked up more minutes had it not been for Brighton’s inherent progressiveness. Ferguson is in their best XI but has been rotated and rested so as not to overload his work.

Ferguson has six goals and two assists in 18 games this season, which compares well to some of the league’s other precocious teenagers. Wayne Rooney, for instance, averaged either a goal or assist every 0.4 games in his teenage years: Ferguson’s equivalent is 0.42, and he has another 18 months left as a teen.

The stats tell a good story but the basic eye-test paints a better one. At least as impressive as the quality of his goalscoring has been Ferguson’s all-round play in a Brighton side playing some of Europe’s best football.

The main reason behind the collapse in Irish involvement in the Premier League is its bloating to become a truly global competition in which the world wants to compete, but the benefit to those who make it are obvious: they have the opportunity to work with coaches as brilliant as Roberto de Zerbi.

“I would like to help him become more complete, become a proper player”, said de Zerbi of Ferguson earlier this season, comparing him to Harry Kane.

“Kane is a complete player, complete striker. He can play like a number 10 or like a number nine. He has the quality of a number 10 and he is a striker, a goalscorer like a number nine. He is able to keep the ball, to play with teammates in the last 20 metres and he understands when he has to attack the space or when to receive the ball. He is a top player.”

premier league 22/23: ferguson's breakout year but irish involvement drops to new low

Gavin Bazunu in action for Southampton.

Southampton’s relegation and his being dropped for the final few games of the season meant Gavin Bazunu’s rookie season in the Premier League was a difficult one. Some of the stats undoubtedly make for ugly reading, with the concession of 56 goals with a total post-shot Expected Goals value of 35 the ugliest of them. Dropping Bazunu has been no fix, though, as Alex McCarthy’s rate of concession has been much worse (13 from a total value of 7.6).

Plus, Bazunu’s age should offer mitigation. He is still only 21, and this season he became the youngest first-choice goalkeeper in the Premier League’s 30-year history. He can reflect on some impressive one-off performance –  particularly away to Manchester United – and he should benefit from not shirking the season’s brutal thrust.

Elsewhere, Seamus Coleman’s minutes would have been much higher had it not been for injury, particularly after the arrival of Sean Dyche.  Nathan Collins began the season in the Wolves team, playing in a back three under Bruno Lage, but he eventually fell out of the team when Julen Lopetegui arrived, switched to a back four, and signed Craig Dawson. This might have been as much an attacking decision as a defensive one, as Dawson’s stats are only notably different to Collins’ in an attacking sense, with Dawson’s total of shots and touches in the opposition box well above the Premier League norm for a centre-back. Dawson was signed in January, when the biggest issue Wolves had to address was a chronic lack of goals.

premier league 22/23: ferguson's breakout year but irish involvement drops to new low

Nathan Collins with Erling Haaland.

Joe Hodge broke into the team before Lopetegui arrived, but unsurprisingly struggled for minutes after the arrival of Joao Gomes and Mario Lemina. The incipient departures of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves may offer a route back to the first-team next season. Connor Ronan, meanwhile, left for Colorado Rapids in MLS after almost 10 years at the club.

Where Bazunu’s dropping is hard to justify, the same regrettably can’t be said of Mark Travers at Bournemouth. He was harshly made to carry the can for the 9-0 loss at Liverpool but his replacement, Neto, played a significant role in keeping Bournemouth up, being the only keeper among the bottom seven clubs to concede fewer goals than the xG stats dictated.

Elsewhere, Matt Doherty’s stint at Spurs came to an abrupt end on the last day of January, sold to Atletico Madrid when they realised they had breached a new limit on loan players. He has yet to start a game for Atletico, but Stephen Kenny expects him to play the final game of the season next weekend.

Shane Duffy’s move to Fulham did not work out, making a handful of late substitute appearances and falling out of the international picture. Andrew Moran is a very promising talent and was rewarded with a Premier League debut at Brighton, and their European campaign may offer further opportunities next season.

Conor Coventry was also given a brief debut by West Ham, but then joined Rotherham on loan and is likely to forge his career away from the London Stadium. Cannon, however, scored eight goals in 20 games on loan at Preston in the Championship, and given Everton’s straitened finances and their lack of depth at centre-forward, he may have some top-flight opportunities next season if Everton stay up.

Caoimhín Kelleher, meanwhile, did not play a Premier League minute at Liverpool. He has been linked with moves to Spurs, Brighton and Brentford, but Jurgen Klopp said recently he can’t see Kelleher leaving the club without a lucrative offer arriving.

Regardless of whether Kelleher gets his move, the total Irish involvement in the Premier League should improve next season, with Josh Cullen (Burnley) and John Egan (Sheffield United) promoted as key parts of their respective sides.

But next season’s total won’t arrest the general decline. This season’s total minutes marks a vertiginous 80% drop on the total minutes accumulated by Irish players a decade ago, in the 2012/13 season.


This isn’t necessarily an indictment of Irish football, it’s likelier a reflection of the awesome growth of the Premier League to its present status as the pre-eminent football league in the world.

To extend the comparison with 10 years ago: Argentinian representation in the Premier League has increased in that time, while Brazilian involvement doubled and the minutes played by Portuguese players exploded, increasing by 400%.

At the same time, French, Spanish, and Belgian involvement have all actually dropped, with Scottish and Welsh players’ accumulated minutes also declining. (Though not, admittedly, to the same extent as the Irish total.) The same figures for Northern Ireland are stark, however, with 14,000 minutes in 2012/13 collapsing to just 1,000 this season.

The data shows that Irish players continue to be buffeted by English football global currents, though Ferguson’s sparkling emergence changes the headlines at least.

The Irish in the Premier League 22/23*

Gavin Bazunu

Club: Southampton

Minutes: 2880

Games: 23

Nathan Collins

Club: Wolves

Minutes: 1724

Games: 25

Seamus Coleman

Club: Everton

Minutes: 1656

Games: 23

Mark Travers

Club: Bournemouth

Minutes: 945

Games: 11

Evan Ferguson

Club: Brighton

Minutes: 860

Games: 18

Matt Doherty

Club: Spurs

Minutes: 667

Games: 12

Joe Hodge

Club: Wolves

Minutes: 169

Games: 5

Tom Cannon

Club: Everton

Minutes: 25

Games: 2

Shane Duffy

Club: Fulham

Minutes: 20

Games: 5

Andrew Moran

Club: Brighton

Minutes: 12

Games: 1

Conor Coventry

Club: West Ham

Minutes: 1

Games: 1

Connor Ronan

Club: Wolves

Minutes: 1

Games: 1


*All figures correct prior to final game of the season

Stats via FBRef and WyScout

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