Fulham youngster Ollie O’Neill believes the League of Ireland has grown in quality over the past decade – and is loving his first taste of senior football on loan at Derry City.

The Ealing-born winger has caught the eye in the early weeks of his time at the Candystripes, with Derry remaining unbeaten with three wins and three draws in their first six fixtures. O’Neill, who signed a professional deal to remain with the Whites last summer despite significant interest from elsewhere, believes more bright talents from English academies will follow his lead and gain first-team football in Ireland in the coming years.

He told the Irish Examiner:

“I was having this conversation a couple of days ago among the boys. I think the league is getting better. Sometimes as Irish people we have a tendency to underrate it. Maybe over the past 10 or 15 years that perception has stuck. But if you look at the league, there are players in there with real quality, especially in the top tier. I think there’s that and probably academy football in England is at a point where players need to start playing senior football and this is a route where they can do it and get quickly snapped up.

It’s probably different for Irish players. I know what I’m getting into. But you are probably seeing more academy boys who don’t have links to Ireland coming over in the next few years. I had a situation with my ankle where I was out over the transfer deadline, so that put a stop to a few of those things. Then from that stage it was very straightforward. It all suited me, so I was very happy to go along.”

An ambitious O’Neill isn’t happy with Derry’s start to the season – believing they could have picked up more points.

“We are probably at a stage where we are not that satisfied with it. We feel we should be a bit better off. There are a couple of points that we dropped at home in the last few weeks that we’re unhappy with. But to get to this international break unbeaten and feeling like we have a few more levels to go up is probably a good enough place to be. We can kick on after this.”

First, O’Neill is vying a spot in the Ireland under-21 side for a friendly against Iceland at Turner’s Cross on Sunday – the team’s first fixture since their devastating penalty shoot-out defeat to Israel in the European Championship play-off last September.

“It was pretty much as close as you could get without qualifying. But that’s life, isn’t it? At least I have the consolation of being able to start another campaign, whereas for some of the boys that was genuinely their last kick of their Irish 21s journey. Irish youth football is at a really good point in terms of the 17s, 19s and 21s over the last five or 10 years, with players coming through.

It definitely feels like, in terms of quality of players, we are going in the right direction. If we could get over that line of qualifying, it would be great.”