Tuesday 28 February 2017

St Ledger wary of Armenian sparkle under TV spotlight

David Kelly

David Kelly

Sean St Ledger knows how an appearance on TV can make or break you -- and the Preston stopper has warned that football's next superstars are just waiting for the opportunity to wreck Ireland's Euro 2012 Championship hopes.

The grandson of a Carlow man initially rose to prominence as a typically self-centred spoilt brat on Sky's 'Big Ron Manager' four years ago, but St Ledger is now a maturing defender who is expected to continue his nascent partnership with Richard Dunne in Friday's Group B opener.

Other group rivals Russia, Macedonia and Slovakia have historically scuppered previous qualification campaigns, so a six-point start seems imperative -- but St Ledger (below) is keen to stress that there are a surfeit of fledgling opposition stars anxious to lower Irish colours.

"Without doubt, six points would be great to start with," he agrees. "They are two winnable games (Ireland host Andorra next Tuesday in Dublin).

"But sometimes everyone's expecting us to get the six points and sometimes it's not as simple as that. I remember playing in the Cyprus game and thinking 'these are decent,' and that surprised me a bit.

"But then I've noticed that every country has good players and for those players it's like a showcase, to try to get into one of the leagues in Europe and play against the likes of Robbie (Keane) and Shay (Given), people who are watched on TV. It gives players that extra incentive which makes it all that little bit harder for us."

Armenia have already demonstrated that they have one potential superstar in their ranks -- Henrik Mkhitaryan's €6m transfer this week to Champions League outfit Shakhtar Donetsk outlines the hitherto hidden talents residing in the South Caucasus.

Armenia's recent 4-1 embarrassment of the Ireland U-21s, a result which hastened Don Givens' exit from the managerial post, hints at a side whose comfort on the ball may override any apparent lack of prestige.

"Somebody just mentioned that to me," the 25-year-old says. "And some lad scored a hat-trick ... you're making me nervous." Er, that lad was the aforementioned Mkhitaryan.

Levity

"He must be rubbish then!"he laughs heartily. Levity is always abundant before a ball has been kicked in a qualifying campaign.

"It's obviously great for the lad. Somebody said that they're a young team. Thing about it these days is that these teams, they're up and coming. It's going to be a tough game.

"They're an unknown quantity really. At the moment it's hard to know because their players aren't playing in the major leagues, so it's hard to get the information on them if they're playing in the Armenian league or whatever.

"It'll be tough, I've looked at their results at home and they've either come close to beating some of the good sides or they've got some great results. Obviously, the temperature is going to be hot out there, which makes it a lot different to what we're used to.

"They've got a lot of energy in the team, but we'll match that, I'm sure. And hopefully we'll come away with the three points."

Irish Independent

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