Young stars to watch out for in the SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier and First Divisions in 2024
2023 had some incredible young talent in the League of Ireland and as the football ecosystem changes around the affects of Brexit and players staying in Ireland longer, we are more and more likely to see breakout stars as we did in 2023 with Sam Curtis, Jack Moylan and James Clarke having stellar seasons for their Clubs.
With several Republic of Ireland MU17, MU19 and MU21 internationals around the League, the question is who will be the breakout stars of 2024? We’ve picked five of the most promising players who could have a big say in the SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division and SSE Airtricity Men’s First Division this year.
Romeo Akachukwu (Waterford)
At just 17, Waterford’s Romeo Akachukwu has already had his say on big occasions. A stunning goal in the MU17 EUROs against Wales will live long in the memory but the midfielder made an incredible impact in the Play-Offs series too.
Coming on against Athlone Town, it was his incredible hat-trick that set the Blues up with a memorable date against Cork City which he duly started and played an important role in a famous win for Keith Long’s side.
Possessing numerous qualities including pace, power and an ability to drive from midfield as well as a clinical shot, the future is very bright for this young star in the making.
Waterford will be hoping to keep a hold of him for as long as they can.
Luke Browne (Shelbourne)
The Shelbourne defender returns back to Tolka Park after a very successful loan period at Wexford last season in their drive to the Play-Offs.
After overcoming a serious leg injury early in 2022, the 18-year-old centre-half made his senior debut with Shelbourne against St. Patrick’s Athletic at the end of that campaign.
14 league appearances for Wexford followed for Browne as well as featuring prominently in Tom Mohan’s Republic of Ireland MU19 EURO Qualifier squads and the Dubliner is primed for a place in Damien Duff’s squad in 2024.
With Luke Byrne retiring and Andrew Quinn departing to Drogheda United, there may be opportunities for the promising defender in 2024 at Tolka Park.
Kaylem Harnett (Wexford)
Positive news emerged from Wexford just before the end of the year when the 16-year-old midfielder Kaylem Harnett signed a new contract at Ferrycarrig Park meaning that the young Ireland underage international could feature regularly in the SSE Airtricity Men’s First Division in 2024 after making his debut in 2023.
The international underage star was named Ireland’s Under-15 Player of the Year for 2022 and was promoted to Colin O’Brien’s MU17 side, helping them to qualify for the elite phase of the U-17 European Championships, and his decision to remain at Ferrycarrig Park is a real vote of confidence in the club.
Impressing in recent friendlies again against Belgium and with Ferrycarrig Park proving to be an excellent ground for developing young stars in recent years, Harnett could be set for a big 2024.
Harnett also featured in Paul Osam’s MU16 side that lifted the Victory Shield in Waterford.
James McManus (Bohemians)
Though you could say 2023 was the breakout year for James McManus, it is more a sign of his clear potential that could see 2024 be a big 12 months for the Bohemians star.
Now that the Leaving Certificate is over and done with, McManus will be able to progress even more from his standout performances in Dalymount Park in 2023 as well as for Republic of Ireland’s MU19 teams.
A terrific passer with a brilliant defensive side to his game, the calm central midfielder has all the attributes to be a core part of the Bohemians midfield in 2024.
With Captain Keith Buckley sidelined for a significant period of time, further responsibility has been laid on his young shoulders and the North Dubliner even started the 2023 Sports Direct Men’s FAI Cup Final which will no doubt be an experience that will stand to him.
With so many young players progressing on from Dalymount Park over recent years, 2024 could signal the full arrival of a star in the making.
Mason Melia (St. Patrick’s Athletic)
A lot has been said about 16-year-old Mason Melia and a lot has already been achieved. Melia scored three goals in 12 senior appearances so far, and is the youngest scorer in St Patrick's Athletic and League of Ireland history.
He is also the youngest ever league starter for St Pat's, and their youngest ever senior appearance maker.
A sign of an exciting era for the Saints was Melia signing a new deal through to 2026 at Richmond Park and the expectation is that Melia will see more game time in 2024.
The attacker played over 30 minutes in the famous Saints Sports Direct Men’s FAI Cup Final win in November and helped the Inchicore outfit to another brilliant Cup win.
Melia also played his part in getting the Saints to the Cup Final when he slotted home a crucial penalty in the penalties win over Derry City in the The Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium - showing absolutely no nerves for one so young.
All the signs are is 2024 could be a year to remember for Mason Melia.