Goalscoring has been an awfully bleak exercise for the Republic of Ireland since all-time leading scorer Robbie Keane announced his international retirement in 2016. The team only scored seven goals in nine matches during a failed qualifying cycle for Euro 2020, and things didn't get much better on the road to Qatar where Ireland only scored 11 in eight games (the majority coming against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan).
Irish eyes have been desperately searching for "the next Keane" (Shane Long? No. Callum Robinson? Nope. Troy Parrott? Unlikely) but the former LA Galaxy hitman has looked like an increasingly rarefied force with manager Stephen Kenny at the helm. Kenny's task was getting the Boys in Green playing modern, possession-based football, but it's looked very sterile without a goalscoring threat.
Is that all about to change with the emergence of 18-year-old striker Evan Ferguson at Brighton & Hove Albion?
The teenager moved to Brighton's prestigious academy (spurning Liverpool interest) at the age of 16 and quickly made his debut in the EFL Cup last season while making one Premier League appearance. He spent the majority of his time making waves in Premier League 2.
However, Ferguson became a first-team regular back in December and has scored three goals while creating two more in 10 PL games this campaign. He's played an even bigger role in Brighton's run to the FA Cup semifinals.
Ferguson scored the winner against Stoke City in the last 16, and on Sunday he scored two more against Grimsby Town in a 5-0 quarterfinal victory.
Here's what the hype's all about. On his first, the 6'2'' striker displayed a phenomenal first touch before dispatching his effort.
That is sublime.Rising star, @Evan_Ferguson9, showcases his talent once again ⭐️#EmiratesFACup pic.twitter.com/VE7ajpvthA
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) March 19, 2023
The 18-year-old's second was a darting dribble followed by an emphatic left-footed finish.
It's that man again @Evan_Ferguson9 knows where the net is #EmiratesFACup pic.twitter.com/PjyIG4EWbE— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) March 19, 2023
Brighton and Ferguson are off to Wembley for the FA Cup semis, but next up for Ferguson is the international break and joining up with his Ireland teammates for the start of Euro 2024 qualifying — first the Boys in Green host World Cup runners-up France in Dublin. Ireland boss Kenny said he was tempted to start Ferguson against Les Bleus.
"He's had a rapid rise, really, obviously from briefly playing with Bohemians as a 14-year-old to playing regularly now in the Premier League," Kenny said. "So, even from our last window, he's made a rapid rise. ... Evan has been very, very good and he's made it look easy at times. He's come in and he makes good decisions, he always seems to make good decisions. He has a variety of attributes. He leads the line well and he links the play well and he has the capacity to score goals, so those are good attributes."
He's just got to outperform Kylian Mbappé and then the hype train will really start rolling.