Patrick Bamford, banging them in for fun at Boro, can breathe new life into Ireland's attack
He's been on fire for Middlesbrough recently.
In this uncertain, World Cup-less landscape, Ireland fans need hope. It's been four months since Christian Eriksen tore Ireland's defence a new one, but the memory remains remarkably painful. It was followed by intense speculation over Martin O'Neill's future and news of Daryl Murphy and Wes Hoolahan retiring.
The latter, in particular, felt as though a source of precious creativity and excitement had been sucked out of our lives. Such a void explains why we get giddy at Michael Obafemi making a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo for Southampton.
But, with a considerable rebuilding job ahead of a bid to reach to Euro 2020, news concerning potential new blood being pumped into the squad is particularly encouraging.
So, to read the Irish Independent's story that Middlesbrough striker Patrick Bamford is ready to declare for Ireland is to envisage an exciting new beginning.
With Murphy gone, Ireland have Shane Long, Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire in attack. A desperately barren run for Southampton has shattered Long's confidence and, while it's encouraging that both Hogan and Maguire have been included in the provisional squad for the friendly against Turkey next week, further reinforcements certainly wouldn't go amiss.
This is where Bamford could potentially come in. Like Hogan and Maguire, the former Chelsea starlet has shone in the Championship of late. A return of eight goals in his last five games for Boro has been impossible to ignore and, although Bamford switched to England having represented Ireland at U18 level, there is hope that he can be persuaded to switch back as he has never played for the England senior team.
— Sky Bet (@SkyBet) March 10, 2018
Once tipped for big things at Stamford Bridge, Bamford's progress has been curbed by a combination of fitness and form issues. He impressed during a loan spell at Boro during the 2014/15 season but failed to reproduce his prolific form at Crystal Palace, Norwich or Burnley.
Sold to Boro in January 2017 and, although he initially struggled to nail down his place in the first-team under Aitor Karanka as the Teesiders were relegated, he has been reborn under Tony Pulis, a dramatic goalscoring surge catapulting the club into contention for the promotion playoffs.
Bamford is eligible for Ireland through his maternal grandparents and, following his phenomenal return to form, O'Neill admitted that he is watching him closely.
“Bamford is one of the Boro players in form and I watched him recently,” O’Neill told the Irish Mirror.
"I haven’t had contact with him but if someone is showing an inclination – and their career with another country is well down the list – then it is certainly something I would consider.
"We don’t have a direct replacement for Murph so I wouldn’t discount it.”
Bamford's dream is to play for England but, considering the pedigree of the personnel making louder noises on Gareth Southgate's radar, perhaps the striker is coming to the realisation that turning out in white will be a tortured quest.
His rejuvenation has certainly thrust him into the Ireland spotlight and, with the need for fresh impetus in attack as strong as ever, Bamford represents an exciting possibility for O'Neill. It sounds like both parties are keen, so let's make it happen.
If you want a measure of where Bamford's confidence is at currently, take a look at the clip below, in which he makes the Sunderland defence look like a bunch of mugs.
— Andy (@AndyCharlton85) February 24, 2018