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Dubliner Sean Kavanagh signs new deal with Fulham

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Sean Kavanagh

Sean Kavanagh

Kit Symons

Kit Symons

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Sean Kavanagh

COLD, grey and rainy in Dublin with the month's long-awaited and badly-needed payday still a few days away, yesterday was an unremarkable day for most of us.

But over in London, it was a day of smiles for promising young Irish footballer Sean Kavanagh, as the lad from Ringsend celebrated his 21st birthday and also had a new contract with his club, Fulham, to show off.

It has been a tough season for fans of Fulham, who started the season with Felix Magath in charge and real hopes of making a rapid return to the Premier League, only for defeats and depression to set in, the side losing seven of the first nine games of the new campaign with the manager then losing his job.

But for Fulham there are bright spots such as academy products like Kavanagh, who now has 11 appearances under his belt this season, also an encouragement from an Irish viewpoint as the former Belvedere lad Kavanagh has shown the sort of form which has caused the club to sign him up on a long-term contract, Kavanagh - who can play at left back or in midfield - now tied down at Craven Cottage until 2018.

The days of Irish-born players like Duff, Dunne, Carr and Harte breaking into the side at a Premier League club seem to be gone and as of now there is no Irish lad who is genuinely knocking on the door of a big club in the top flight, so the emergence of a lad like Kavanagh onto a relatively big stage - a crowd of over 20,000 witnessed his debut goal in senior football earlier this season - is good news.

"It's been a good season for me. At the start of the year my main aim was to break into the team and then maybe score a goal for Fulham, and I have managed to do both so that's pleasing. I just want to get as many games under my belt as I can now, getting my debut was the important thing to start off with but I am hungry for more matches now," Kavanagh told The Herald, the Dubliner celebrating on the double yesterday with that 21st birthday and the new three-year deal from his club.

"Contract talks have been going on for a few weeks but I was happy to stay here for a few more years. It's a good club to be at, we have some good young players coming through and the manager trusts us, by giving us a few games so I can't complain."

CHANCE

For Kavanagh, getting a run in the Fulham side this season is a vindication of his decision to join the club.

"If I was at another club I might not have had any first team games by now. I would say to any young Irish lad going to England that you are better off at a club like this, I don't see an Irish lad getting a chance at a club like Liverpool, Man City or Arsenal, you have a better chance of getting into the first team at a club like this."

While there's obviously disappointment around the club at the fact that they're no longer in the Premier League, demotion to the Championship has opened up a door.

"Of course we all want to be in the Premier League but I do think that us being relegated and in the Championship has done me a favour. Being honest, I probably wouldn't be in the first team now if we were in the Premier League," he says. Going down was a bad thing for the club but it was probably a good thing for my career. And Kit Symons has been great for me as manager," he says.

A highlight of the season was scoring the only goal of the game against Norwich last October. "As a kid you dream about moments like that, scoring in a big game in the English leagues, my mam was over for that game so it was a great day for me," he smiles.

Coming through the ranks in a talented Belvedere side, Kavanagh had options in England but Craven Cottage seemed like a welcoming place right away. "I had offers from other clubs, Middlesbrough was probably the best other offer, but Fulham were in the Premier League at the time and it seemed like the right move," he says. "And we had a few senior Irish players here as well, Damien Duff and Stephen Kelly were in the squad and that was a factor too as they were a big help to me in moving over."

Kavanagh learned his trade in a good Belvedere side. Some of his old schoolboy team-mates are still in England, such as Pierce Sweeney (Reading) and Darragh Lenihan (currently impressing at Burton Albion, on loan from Blackburn Rovers), while others are working away in the League of Ireland, mainly Bohemians duo Adam Evans and Keelan Dillon. "I was at Belvedere from when I was 11 up to 17 and I learned a lot, the way you are coached and encouraged to get the ball down and play it," he says.

But while he played schoolboy football on the northside, Kavanagh picked up his early skills south of the Liffey on the streets of his native Ringsend. The Dublin suburb had a great tradition of producing players, like Dave Langan and Liam O'Brien, a fact Kavanagh is aware of. He says: "Ringsend always had good players and that's where I learned how to play, out on the street until my mam had to drag me in when it got dark. Graham Kavanagh was probably the last one from Ringsend to come thorough and go all the way, to play for Ireland."

International football is also a goal for the Fulham lad. "I know it would take a lot to get into the senior Ireland squad but I have to aim for that, down the road. I can play in a couple of positions, left back or anywhere in the midfield so I can offer options.

"I have played once for the U21s and I have a good few games under my belt with Fulham so I would be confident of stepping up if I was asked. I don't see it happening for me with the senior squad for now so a few months with the U21s would do me the world of good. I would be hard to get into the Irish midfield as we have so many great players there ahead of me but we don't have too many left backs at the minute so if Ireland were struggling for a left back I'd be happy to step up," he says.


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