King adamant home-grown talent will get their chance to impress
Ireland U-21 boss Noel King insists that home-based talent will get their chance under his helm, despite the absence of Airtricity League players from his squad for today's friendly against Portugal in Águeda (5.15).
King will assess a raft of newcomers, including Arsenal's Conor Henderson and Preston North End midfielder Adam Barton, in what is Ireland's penultimate friendly before their European Championship qualifying campaign begins on September 1 -- against Hungary at the Showgrounds in Sligo.
That the likes of rising stars Karl Sheppard (Shamrock Rovers), Paul Corry (UCD) and Lee Dixon (Bohemians) don't feature in the 18-man panel has raised eyebrows among seasoned followers of the League of Ireland. However, the former Shamrock Rovers stalwart is adamant the domestic league won't be ignored when it comes to the final shake-up for squad places in the competitive series.
"Our game today in Portugal coincides with a full programme of Airtricity League fixtures," said King. "This early stage of the league campaign isn't the ideal time to be taking players away from important club duties.
"I have spoken to club managers about the situation and there's no issue. One of my first tasks when I took the job last summer was to stage trial matches solely for home-based players either side of Christmas. Those exercises were hugely valuable and showed me the quality of talent plying their trade in Ireland.
"Last month's friendly in Cyprus, along with today's and another friendly in Austria on August 9, are being treated as evaluation matches for the qualifiers later in the year. I will continue to attend Airtricity League matches on a weekly basis and can assure everyone that domestically-based players will be in full contention for inclusion in squads for the next games in August and September."
One player in the squad not long off the home scene is striker Paddy Madden, a January transfer window deadline capture by Carlisle United from Bohemians.
The 21-year-old, who bagged 16 goals last season, is keen to make his mark. "I think I can add something different to the squad," he said. "I was picked for U-21 squads before, but I'm aiming to get a longer run in the side now that I'm playing in my own age-group.
Recently-declared Scunthorpe United centre-back Niall Canavan also looks set to make his international debut, while Everton defender Shane Duffy, who starts on the bench this evening, has joined Burnley on loan for the rest of the season.
Ireland U-21 v Portugal (probable) -- McLoughlin; Towell, Canavan, Kiernan, Gunning; Connolly, Henderson, Barton; Clifford, Doran, O'Connor. Subs: Hourihane, Murray, Madden, Duffy, Quirke, Oyebanjo.