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SSFC Spotlight: Killian Phillips on the rise at Crystal Palace

The dual-national midfielder is attracting transfer interest.

Shrewsbury Town v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

With Folarin Balogun competing for the United States Men’s National Team, the eyes of the media and fanbase turn to the next potential dual-national addition. Due to the relative infrequency of international fixtures, these recruiting battles receive outsized attention during the in-between times. Killian Phillips could be the subject of a pitch in the future. The Ireland youth international midfielder recently completed a superb loan with Shrewsbury Town while on loan from Crystal Palace.

Born in San Diego, California, Phillips relocated with his mother and three brothers to the northside of Dublin and played with St. Kevin’s Boys, Kilbarrack United, and the Football Association of Ireland’s Transition Year program before moving to the Drogheda United academy, having been turned down by Shelbourne and Bohemians. In July of 2020, he appeared in a friendly against Dundalk and began being included on the match-day squad for the first team as the club won the second-tier League of Ireland First Division. The U-19 squad provided him with additional playing time, with the dual-role being described as a “great experience.”

“Before Covid I was probably ghosting a bit with my football. I was happy to tell all my mates that I play in the League of Ireland and was with Drogheda,” Phillips told The 42. “But after Covid hit, something changed. I was out every day until it got dark doing my bits. I got my head down and worked hard. I was down in the park or on the main pitch at Kilbarrack every day. Wayne Groves, the Under-19 manager Drogheda, was in touch with me every day. He rang me and made a list of what I needed to do in the off season. I got stronger, I did more running, ball work.”

The following offseason, the club signed him to a first-team contract, with Phillips calling the move a “no-brainer.” He made 31 combined Premier League and FAI Cup appearances, contributing two goals and one assist while starting the majority of fixtures for the Drogs, being recognized as one of the competition’s top young players. As transfer interest grew, including being “tracked” by Celtic, the club signed the “outstanding young talent” to a new deal.

With Ireland operating on a spring-to-fall schedule, Phillips went on trial during the winter of 2022 with Crystal Palace, putting in a “starring performance” during a friendly with Union Berlin. He signed a two-year deal with the Premier League club for an undisclosed fee reported to be in the range of €50,000. His tenure began with the reserves, making ten appearances in the Premier League 2 and scoring one goal, while manager Patrick Vieira included him in training with the senior squad.

This past season, Phillips made his first-team debut in the second round of the EFL Cup, starting and playing 51 minutes in the 2-0 victory over Oxford United. Outside of two inclusions in the match-day squad, he made several appearances in the Premier League 2 and EFL Trophy, scoring seven times, including a brace in a 5-1 rout of Manchester United. In need of match experience, the midfielder was a hot name in the loan market, attracting interest from “six or seven clubs.”

During the winter, Phillips moved to Shrewsbury Town through the end of the season, settling quickly and being suited to the tactics that are “similar to the Irish league.” He featured in 19 League One matches, contributed three goals and two assists as Salop registered a mid-table finish, and missed three fixtures after suffering a concussion from “a nasty blow to the head” in a draw with Derby County. Despite his late entry into the squad, the club awarded him two Player of the Month awards and Young Player of the Season, with his performances described as “immense.” Transfer interest has been building, as Millwall, Luton Town, Swansea City, Bristol City, Coventry City, and Stoke City are reportedly in pursuit, but Crystal Palace was sure to secure a contract extension and is exploring another loan, with Aberdeen emerging as a favorite.

However, his sights are set on succeeding at Selhurst Park. “I think I have a bit more composure on the ball now and my decision-making has gotten better too,” Phillips shared with the Irish Independent. “I’m going to go back to Palace and try to get into the first-team. I want to try and become a Palace player. I’m going to try my best to impress in pre-season. Hopefully by the time the season rolls around, if I’ve impressed and I’ll be in the team. I’m desperate to play for Crystal Palace to be honest, I love everything about the club.”

At the international level, Phillips is eligible for the USMNT and Ireland. He has accepted youth call-ups to the latter nation, making the bench for the U-21 squad during UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying and appearing in friendlies against Iceland and Ukraine. Donning the green jersey was the “proudest moment of [his] entire life” and “living a dream” while “smiling for the whole 90 minutes.”

Standing a little under 6’3”, Phillips is primarily a center midfielder who can also line up as an attacker and deeper in the formation, including at centre-back. Vieira describes him as “a box-to-box player with a lot of strength going forward,” noting his “determination on the field” and “hard-working” attitude, while still needing to improve his understanding of the professional level’s idiosyncracies. There is a calmness to his game as he takes an advanced position in the final third, holding up the ball as a distributor, dealing with physical challenges, and picking moments to shoot.

“He is a big, strong boy,” said Shrewsbury manager Steve Cotterill. “He’s 6’3. Can nick a goal, he’s very good in both boxes and a really good athlete as well – he’s a strong runner. Because of his size, he’s not necessarily going to be a sprinter, but he’s a strong runner and a really, really, good lad. We have known about him for a little while now. We are really pleased we have got him in. He’s aggressive.”

In all likelihood, Phillips will never accept a call-up to the USMNT, relishing his experience with the Ireland set-up. However, with time, circumstances can change as players consider different options or explore new opportunities. For now, he is an ascendant dual-national talent who should be included in lists of potential future additions to the program.