Revelation Doherty is stand-out star in top flight

Wolves defender heads the charts for a dwindling Irish Premier League contingent

Sliding doors: Wolves wing-back Matt Doherty had a season to remember in the Premier League, leading the way for Ireland’s players in England’s top tier. Photo: Getty

During the Premier League era, the cast of Irish characters in the English top flight has dropped like Game of Thrones extras.

Just 15 players tasted action this season, although that list excludes Declan Rice, who was technically an Irish international when it kicked off.

A decade ago, the number of Irishmen involved was closer to 30 than 20.

But the numbers have steadily dropped in the intervening period and it wasn't a particularly happy year for the Class of 2018/19, although there were some encouraging developments from an age profile perspective.

Three of the 15 suffered relegation, while another has left his club.

Sheffield United's promotion should offset that loss and playoff finalists Aston Villa and Derby both have Irish representation so that should maintain numbers at a low level, which has become the new normal.

Still, at the top end of the annual rankings, there was a significant good news tale.

1. Matt Doherty
Wolves - Appearances: 38
Minutes on pitch: 3147

With his club able to shop in elite markets, there were suggestions that Doherty - the sole survivor from Wolves' last Premier League campaign - would be pushed aside. Instead, he thrived to show that he has the quality to operate at the highest level. His form earned him a mid-season contract increase that effectively sets him up for life.

2. Shane Duffy
Brighton - Appearances: 35
Minutes On Pitch: 3088

Brighton's drop-off in form cost Chris Hughton his job, but Duffy's position was never under threat and he's now very much an established Premier League player. If the Seagulls had fallen through the trap door, Duffy would have stayed up either way. He scored five times.

3. Seamus Coleman
Everton - Appearances: 29
Minutes On Pitch: 2560

How can Coleman be this high on the list after a season where he briefly lost his place? It's a fair question. But he still spent almost 500 more minutes on the pitch than any of the players below and finished the campaign quite well. It was a crisis by his standards.

4. Jeff Hendrick
Burnley - Appearances: 32
Minutes on Pitch: 2069

Hendrick impressed for Ireland in March and he's remained a regular part of Sean Dyche's plans without necessarily graduating to the next level. Still, he's made it as a Premier League player which is an achievement.

5. Shane Long
Southampton - Appearances: 26
Minutes On Pitch: 1269

The butt of many jokes finished the campaign with a flourish to give himself a chance of surviving Ralph Hasenhuttl's planned summer changes. He equalled Duffy's tally of five goals.

6. Harry Arter
Cardiff - Appearances: 25
Minutes On Pitch: 2008

He's angling for a move away from Bournemouth following a season away on loan. During that season he saw regular enough action for a Cardiff team that did as well as could be expected with their resources.

7. Michael Obafemi
Southampton - Appearances: 6
Minutes On Pitch: 134

Obafemi ranked above senior players listed below because he took a step forward in his career this term, even if injury prevented the striker from building on it. That's the concern, as he's certainly a talent.

8. Mark Travers
Bournemouth - Appearances: 2
Minutes On Pitch: 180

When the Maynooth lad made his debut against Tottenham, he didn't have a Wikipedia page in his honour, which left pundits and commentators searching for information. His debut was a dream and while a drubbing at Crystal Palace brought the teenager back down to earth, he's also boosted his profile.

9. Ciaran Clark
Newcastle - Appearances: 11
Minutes On Pitch: 857

Clark is a bit of a forgotten man, with his last league appearance coming back in January. He had sporadic runs in the side prior to that but a combination of injuries and a lower place in the pecking order restricted his gametime in Rafael Benitez's team.

10. Robbie Brady
Burnley - Appearances: 16
Minutes On Pitch: 715

A frustrating year for Brady, who recovered from a long-term absence but lost his place after struggling with form and was peripheral after Christmas. Needs a good pre-season to really force his way back into Sean Dyche's thoughts.

11. Kevin Long
Burnley - Appearances: 6
Minutes On Pitch: 513

The back-up player at Burnley spent more time than he would have wanted in reserve. He might need to move to another club to boost his international prospects.

12. Cyrus Christie
Fulham - Appearances: 19
Minutes On Pitch: 1943

He finally got a chance at Premier League level but drifted in and out of a flaky side that was unsurprisingly relegated in their first season back in the top flight. Has dropped out of Mick McCarthy's plans.

13. Stephen Ward
Burnley - Appearances: 3
Minutes On Pitch: 230

The Whatsapp saga in September was an unwelcome distraction but the real problem for Ward this year was long-term injury niggles catching up on him. He's now looking for a new club after parting ways with Burnley and retiring from the international game. If this is the end of his Premier journey, he's made a decent fist of it.

14. Greg Cunningham
Cardiff - Appearances: 7
Minutes On Pitch: 630

Last summer's move to Cardiff gave Cunningham the opportunity to graduate to the next level, but it didn't really work out as he envisaged. He was never able to get a run of games under Neil Warnock.

15. James McCarthy
Everton - Appearances: 1
Minutes On Pitch: 14

A wasted campaign in the career of the Glaswegian. Admittedly, he was unavailable until January as he recovered from his broken leg but the real disappointment for McCarthy is what happened thereafter. He was angling for a move before the close of the window yet that didn't come to pass and he spent a number of weeks as an unused sub before a solitary cameo.