King hoping to make light of absentees as Italian job looms
Published 22/03/2016 | 02:30
After losing two of his midfielders to injury, Ireland U-21 manager Noel King could afford a wry smile about the possibility of another, Jack Byrne, being kidnapped by Martin O'Neill in the same week they host Italy.
"I don't mind that - it is part of the job," King retorted when queried about Byrne's much talked-about first day with the big boys.
Thankfully, he'll have the energetic playmaker returned to camp tonight, and how his influence could be needed during the next week as Ireland welcome their group leaders to Waterford on Thursday (6.0) before travelling to take on Slovenia next Monday.
Ireland have collected nine points from five Euro qualifiers, but six were extracted from Andorra.
Claiming another six from Lithuania proved beyond them, as a 3-1 defeat in Vilnius in November, which King described as the low point of his 30-year managerial career, leaves them playing catch-up in the campaign.
"Lithuania was the probably worst result in my career given that we had beaten them previously at home," reflected the 59-year-old, who become player-manager at Derry City in 1985.
"It was a one-off . We were flat and poor, and have looked at it long and hard. Everybody suffered and it was hard to suffer. We have to leave it behind us.
"It will certainly be very difficult (to qualify) if we lose against Italy. Six or four points from these two games gets us right back into it and I'd be confident against the Italians if we repeat the performance we gave in the away game.
"They beat us 1-0 but we should have gotten something out of it - the old 'shoulda' story."
Much of Ireland's dominant display that night in Vicenza back in October stemmed from the creativity of Alan Browne and Josh Cullen, two midfielders sidelined through knocks. Sean Kavanagh also misses out having been sent-off in the Lithuanian loss.
Better news for King is the emergence of Kavanagh's former Belvedere team-mate Darragh Lenihan as a regular at Blackburn Rovers under Paul Lambert.
His namesake, Brian, is back after missing almost 13 months of football through injury, while Cork City's Sean Maguire reported for duty yesterday with a spring in his step after downing champions Dundalk on Friday.