Wednesday 28 September 2016

West Ham ace Cullen happy to stick with Ireland U-21s

John Fallon

Published 09/10/2015 | 02:30

Josh Cullen of West Ham United in action
Josh Cullen of West Ham United in action

In the wake of Jack Grealish's defection, scrutiny on the intentions of other English-born youngsters has been magnified but Ireland U-21 playmaker Josh Cullen plans to stay put.

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The West Ham United product, 19, is a rarity this season insofar as no other player currently in the FAI's set-up has been handed their Premier League debut and the prospects of more appear remote. That his bow came at Anfield says much for the esteem Slaven Bilic holds him in.

This evening at the Waterford RSC against Lithuania (5.45pm), Cullen and Jack Byrne will harness the Ireland's U-21 team's midfield, carrying the burden of expectation not just for the team's Euro qualification ambitions but also as genuine contenders to inject new blood into a senior squad reliant on veterans.

Encouragement

That's why encouragement can be taken from Cullen's outlook.

"People in England say to me, 'Why are you playing for Ireland?'" explained the player born in Southend-on-Sea, who switched to Ireland last season after initially playing for his homeland.

"But I'm as proud as any of the lads in the team to be representing Ireland. For me, I'm playing in the memory of my grandparents.

"Both of my dad's parents were born in Co Leitrim before moving to England. They passed away a number of years ago but it's special for me to honour their memory."

Cullen converted his club form to the international scene, creating one and scoring the other in a 2-0 victory over Andorra four weeks ago.

IRELAND U-21 (Probable) - D Rogers (Falkirk); A Browne (Preston NE), S Griffin (Reading), D Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), J Connors (Dagenham); G Rea (Southend Utd), J Byrne (SC Cambuur), J Cullen (West Ham Utd); C O'Dowda (Oxford Utd), C Wilkinson (Barnsley), S Kavanagh (Fulham).

Irish Independent

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