Grading centre backs will always be much more of a challenge than grading attackers. They…
Few even bothered raising an eyebrow when Eamonn Brophy moved to Kilmarnock on a three-year deal during the most recent summer transfer window. Prolific in the development league for a spell with Hamilton during the 2014/15 season, and during a short stint on loan at Queen’s Park, he subsequently struggled for goals on loan at Dumbarton and failed to establish himself as a first-team regular at Accies.
Hamilton are renowned for giving youth a chance and while he may not have been given as many starts as he’d have liked, Brophy was given scores of opportunities from the bench. During this time he failed to make much of an impression on the goalscoring charts, his most memorable contribution coming when, as a fresh-faced teenager, he wheeled out the aeroplane celebration after emerging from the bench to net at Celtic Park… and pull the score back to 7-1.
When his playing days at the Superseal came to an end, Killie manager at the time Lee McCulloch deemed the young striker worthy of a gamble. It may not have been the most inspiring signing of the summer transfer window, but it has quietly proven to be one of the best.
The 22-year-old, who has netted eight goals so far this season, last week capped off an impressive run of form with a recall to the Scotland under-21 set-up.
Kilmarnock continue to rise under the tutelage of Steve Clarke and you’d be hard-pressed to find a regular in the squad who hasn’t improved during the manager’s short stint there so far. But while there are no end of plaudits for the likes of Kris Boyd, Jordan Jones and Youssouf Mulumbu, the likes of Brophy have gone under the radar somewhat.
Brophy was singled out for praise by his captain during a recent BBC Sportsound interview. In doing so, Boyd referenced something he has brought up several times in the past: that in order for him to be an effective goalscorer he needs others around him doing the running and the creating for him.
“Did I believe I had 20 goals in me? Yes, I’ll back my ability, but it’s the guys round about me,” said Boyd when talking about the difference since Clarke’s appointment. “I’ve said it, I know I can score goals, I know I can get into positions but … there are now players around about me doing what I can’t do.
“When you look at the way Jordan Jones has been, Rory McKenzie, Youssouf Mulumbu, Lee Erwin has come in, but the one for me has been Eamonn Brophy. “I think the kid has got a real chance. He’s another one who is not frightened to miss, he’ll go back. He’ll go back again. It’s great to have someone who – yes, I’ve scored 20 goals, I think he’s on eight or nine – but the amount of running he does, going into channels to make space, to create havoc for defenders, it’s allowing me to do what I’ve done over the years.”
Brophy’s eagerness to get himself into scoring positions and fearlessness in front of goal referenced by Boyd are reflected in his stats. The 22-year-old is currently sixth in the league when it comes to goals per 90 minutes. His rate of 0.59 sees him behind only players like Alfredo Morelos, Odsonne Edouard, Louis Moult, Kris Boyd and Leigh Griffiths.
Furthermore, at 4.25 Brophy sits second behind only Griffiths when it comes to shots per 90 minutes and his xG value of 0.66 is the third best in the league – only Griffiths (0.83) and Moussa Dembele (0.69) boast a higher value.
These impressive figures are not just the result of being in the right place at the right time; Brophy is also adept at taking the ball in fairly innocuous areas and carving out opportunities for himself. And he does so by either dropping off the front, playing from the left, or even as one of two number 10s behind Boyd – like during the 1-0 win at Fir Park, for example.
Even his work off the ball is tireless, which was there for everyone to see during the recent victory at Ibrox where he continuously pressed and got into positions designed to limit Rangers’ passing options.
Brophy may not stand out immediately as one of the reasons for Kilmarnock’s transformation and may not possess one defining attribute, but he is a well-rounded forward with bags of potential. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s tactically aware, he’s not afraid to do the dirty work, he possesses a thunderous strike and, for good measure, he appears to have a cockiness and a swagger to his play.
This campaign will be deemed a success for Brophy and his employer regardless of what happens between now and the season’s end, but if he continues to progress at this rate next season could be a big season for him.