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Richard Dunne Irish special exclusive: Fiorentina, BVB looking at U16s; Melia good enough for Chelsea, Man City; why our top kids now in Serie A

There is 21-year-old Festy Ebesole and James Abankwah, 20, both plying their trade at Serie A outfit Udinese. Kevin Zefi is trying to break through at AS Roma while Senan Mullen recently joined the youngsters at Torino FC. The pair of them are just about to turn 19.

What is going on in the Republic of Ireland? Is a particularly special crop of talents just breaking through or is something else the reason behind this exodus to Italy, of all places, for young Irishmen.

"I think it's the result of Brexit," goes the answer, when put the question to Irish footballing royalty Richard Dunne.

"Irish players have started to realise that the door to England is pretty much closed until they're 18. Young players used to go over to England but that route is closed to them, so they have to open the door into Europe," Dunne continues before recalling a chance encounter with an Italian agent at a football tournament in Austria last year.

"He was saying that their main focus now is Ireland because of the talent of the young players coming through. Agents know quite well they can't go to England anymore, so they're trying to get them over to Italy or to Europe and see what they can do from there," says Dunne who is imagining countries like Germany, France, potentially Spain and obviously Italy taking advantage of Brexit, although Dunne does raise a little concern.

"Obviously there is a language barrier with the Irish players going over, but hopefully it will help develop Irish football in a different way."

Dunne himself made the move to Everton at 15, before going on to rack up 80 internationals in the green shirt, and he's not sure the talent pool is bigger than usual.

"The talent has always been there; it's just always been guided in a different direction. I don't know whether the foreign clubs have just never looked to Ireland but now they're opening their eyes to the potential of players coming through," the former four-time Manchester City Player of the Year says, before adding he is aware of interest from the likes of Sporting Lisbon, Borussia Dortmund and Fiorentina in a few current players in the Irish U16 national team.

One of them might well be Mason Melia, who was only 15 when making his debut for St. Patrick's Athletic. Naturally he has also caught the eye of Richard Dunne.

"He's a powerful striker for someone so young, and I know a lot of English clubs have had him on the radar. He's one of maybe a two, three, four centre-forwards at the moment who could break into the League of Ireland team soon. Obviously, that draws the attention from clubs all over the world," says Dunne who's been impressed by Melia himself.

"The League of Ireland is not the most powerful league in Europe, but it's a very difficult league to play in. For a young lad of 15 to be able to make room to score is really, really good. He's quick, he can run in behind. He's powerful, he can hold the ball up. He's a bright hope for Irish football,", Dunne continues before having to break off the interview to shut up his dog who wanted to have his say in the matter.

"He's one of those players with plenty of clubs looking at him and it's just about making the right decision and getting a move to the right place."

Could that perhaps be one of Dunne's former clubs, say Manchester City?

"From what I've heard, I think Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City are really interested in him and potentially would wait until his 18th birthday to get him over. It comes down to the player, really. If he wants to get playing professionally in a higher league, that'll have to be in Europe."

While Dunne left for England when he was 15, he thinks Melia could still profit from staying in Ireland.

"The League of Ireland isn't a league which people regard in a really high standard. But for a young player playing first-team football in that league is a really big learning experience for him."

While the talent, according to Dunne, has always been present, Irish football has nevertheless changed a lot since Dunne traded Home Park for Goodison Park.

"When I was in Ireland, there were no real academies. It was just grassroots clubs and then you'd have the big League of Ireland teams who just had a first team and maybe a B team.

"Now it goes all the way down to junior level and they get academies from under six or seven and educate players all the way through. So, in terms of the structure of Irish football, it's improved massively. Shamrock Rovers are averaging around 8.000 or 9.000 supporters per game," Dunne explains before offering a wish for a future head coach of the national team which is still without a boss after the departure of Stephen Kenny.

"I would love Lee Carsley to take. He's obviously an ex-teammate and someone I got on with really well. I think he's been really successful in his coaching career. It's just whether it's right for him, but I think he would be one that the fans would really get behind."

Richard Dunne was speaking to on behalf of William Hill.

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