Seven First Division talents capable of Premier step-up

With the 2018 First Division regular season already set to reach a conclusion across the country tomorrow night, Kieran Burke highlights the top seven second-tier players who he feels are more than capable of playing in the top-flight next season. Naturally, UCD’s talented “Students” are excluded given their promotion to the Premier Division for 2019 already secured.

  • Name: Mick Kelly

  • Current club: Longford Town

  • Position: Goalkeeper

Arriving in the Midlands, following some impressive displays against “De Town” last season, former Shamrock Rovers “B” and Cabinteely shot-stopper Kelly has cemented his status as one of the top keepers in the First Division. Despite suffering a shaky start at his new club the 6’4’ giant showed fantastic charterer and ability in bouncing back to pull off a catalog of miraculous saves against Sligo Rovers and Shelbourne in Longford’s strong FAI Cup run this season and as a result there may be plenty of suitors for Kelly’s signature, especially when you consider the former Rovers mans incredible distribution abilities. One to watch.



Similarly to his Longford team-mate Mick Kelly, Elworthy experienced a rocky start to life under Neale Fenn. However, with the former Drogheda defender soon displacing Adam O’Connor at full-back, Elworthy grew in confidence with every minute under his belt and as now one of the first names on “De Town team-sheet every week. With Longford looking unlikely to be promoted this season, Fenn will have a real battle on his hands this winter to retain the services of such key assets.



One of the divisions more experienced players at the age of thirty-three, Keith Cowan is an old school throw back to how they once mad centre-halfs. Tough as nails, heading and kicking everything in sight (even if that has resulted in a couple of early baths this season) and a strong leader at the back, Cowan has even chipped in with four league goals this season. With Harps near neighbors Derry City struggling to plug a leaky back four the no nonsense approach of Keith Cowan could certainly help stem the tide for an under-pressure manager like Kenny Shiels.



Starring in the “Rams” hugely impressive EA Sports Cup final display last Sunday, Kevin Taylor is a rare breed of modern day full-backs that are equally as strong on the back foot as getting forward and creating chances.

A strong tackler despite his small stature, Taylor has a nippiness to his game when on the ball and given the youngsters pedigree having come through the ranks at Cork City, a potential return to the cross one day may not be out of reach for the defender.

NAME: Aodh Dervin, CURRENT CLUB: Longford Town, POSITION: CM

NAME: Aodh Dervin, CURRENT CLUB: Longford Town, POSITION: CM

Running the risk of accusations of bias with a third Longford Town selection, Aodh Dervin is undoubtedly one of the top talents currently plying his trade in either division and therefore simply couldn’t be excluded from the list. Only completing his Leaving Certificate this summer, Dervin’s potential has been well known around Longford football circles for many years. However, the Melview mans dynamic and explosive style of midfield play soon raised an eyebrow or two across First Division grounds, particularly Eamon Deacy Park after the teenager handed Ryan Connolly a footballing lesson earlier this season.

Dervin’s lack of fear and bite in the tackle against even the most experienced of campaigners marks the midfielder out as a certain future Longford Town captain, however, whether his local club can keep the talented youngster for much longer remains to be seen, although the Longford man has just recently signed an eighteen-month professional contract under the watch of rookie manager, Neale Fenn.

With Dervin already on the fringes of the Irish underage international set-up, expect any eventual call-up to only draw more scouts to the City Calling Stadium for a glimpse at Longford’s local sensation.

  • NAME: Ciaran Kelly

  • CURRENT CLUB: Drogheda United


    Chipping in with five league goals this season and crucial ones at that, Ciaran Kelly has taken like a duck to water in the League of Ireland First Division, having signed from St.Patrick’s Athletic in January. Making just one senior appearance for the “Saints”, Kelly is something of a rookie when it comes to senior level football but that has not stopped the youngster from playing a big role in the County Louth clubs promotion push.

    Kelly’s last gasp equaliser at home to Longford in the early stages of this season may very well prove to be the difference between the two clubs in the race for the final play-off place and should the “Drogs” qualify you can be sure Kelly’s name will be on the pages of many a scouts notepad.

NAME: Conor Keely, CURRENT CLUB: Cabinteely, POSITION: CB

NAME: Conor Keely, CURRENT CLUB: Cabinteely, POSITION: CB

Similar in many ways to the aforementioned Keith Cowan, Cabinteely’s Conor Keely is a no nonsense centre-half, who is in supreme physical condition. A real threat in the air, particularly when inside the oppositions box as proved with four league goals in 2018, Keely was previously on the books of another Dublin club in the shape of Shelbourne. However, regular game time under Eddie Gormley at Stradbrook has really developed the youngster and with the centre-half believed to be on the radar of a couple of promotion chasers, Premier Division football could be in Keely’s future one way or another yet.

Have you spotted an exceptional talent at First Division level this season? Want to let us know about him? If so, get in touch with Between the Stripes on Twitter (@BetweenStripes) or on Facebook - Between the Stripes.

It should also be noted that Cobh Ramblers duo Christopher Hull and Denzil Fernandes both received mentions on this weeks Between the Stripes LOI podcast as Sunday’s EA Sports Cup final was reviewed. To listen back to the show, which also featured an exclusive interview with UCD striker and First Division winner Conor Davis, simply click on the Audioboom player below, where you can also subscribe to the show via Itunes, Spotify and others.