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Greg's dream realised quickly

HIS PHONE nearly went into meltdown yesterday with the traffic of phone calls and text messages from well-wishers, when it was confirmed that Manchester City teenager Greg Cunningham, with only 45 minutes of first team football under his belt, had been elevated to the senior Ireland squad for a friendly against Brazil.

But it was some snail mail, an old-fashioned card which came through the post, which had already brought home to the 19-year-old just what he had achieved.

"After I made my debut for Manchester City last month, I got a 'well done' card in the post from Eamonn 'Chick' Deasy, congratulating me on playing and wishing me well. He said he was the last man from Galway to play for Ireland and he hoped that I would get the chance to do the same in the near future, and now I have that chance," Cunningham told the Herald today after a dramatic day which saw the teenager plucked from the Manchester City reserves and plunged into the senior Ireland squad for that Brazil friendly in London.

"It's such an honour for me to be here, to see my name in that Ireland squad, not just an hour for me but for my family and everyone who helped me get this far. We've had great hurlers and Gaelic footballers in Galway over the years, great soccer players as well but from what I am told we had no international player from Galway since Chick Deasy and that was almost 30 years ago.

Step

"I don't know if I'll get to play against Brazil next month, for now I'm still in shock at just being in the squad as it's a massive step for me, but I will train hard this week, go down to London on Sunday to meet up with the rest of the squad and try my best."

It's been a whirlwind start to 2010 for Cunningham, another chapter in a remarkable career which saw the Galway lad start life as a striker, then convert to being a left winger before settling in as a left back.

That's where he caught the eye, playing for Manchester City in an FA Cup tie with Scunthorpe United last month, as his 45 minute cameo as a half-time sub caught the eye of Ireland's management team of Marco Tardelli and Giovanni Trapattoni - with some words of praise from his manager Roberto Mancini, who recommended Cunningham to Trapattoni.

"Roberto Mancini has been great to me, it was a big sign of faith in me from him that he played me in the FA Cup game," Cunningham says.

"He's a great coach, he was a great player as he won everything in the game and he is great for the younger players here at City."

Many felt that Cunningham was taking a big risk when he opted to join Manchester City from Mervue United, as he was not short of offers.

"I've been on a few trials," he says. "Myself and my twin bother, Daniel, had been away on trial together. We were at Aberdeen and Daniel went to Leicester. When it came to it, I had offers on the table from Newcastle, Celtic and Manchester City.

Chance

"When I knew that City wanted me, I wanted to go there. I know some people say you should start off with a smaller club as you'd have a better chance of making it, and there is a challenge in going to a club like City where they have the money to buy any player they want in the world.

"But once I saw City, the academy there and the standard of the players and the facilities, my mind was made up for me.

I just felt that it was the right club for me and I have never doubted that for a second. I have been doing ok for the last while but then I got the chance to play against Scunthorpe for my debut and that was a big moment for me.

"We were missing a few players that day so the manager filled out the squad with some of the younger lads, two of us made our debuts that day, it was a busy day for me as I got my debut and also got my first yellow card."

Cunningham hasn't featured for City, even on the bench, since then. "We got the players back from injury so myself and one or two others had to drop down to the reserves, but I am happy with how things are going.

"We have a few players out on loan at the moment but I don't think that will happen for myself, I have had a chat with the manager and he wants me to stay here until the end of the season, that's the plan anyway."

Cunningham hopes he can now cement a position at left back for club and country. "I was a striker when I was back in Ireland but I was changed around when I came over here," he says.

"I have ended up as a left back and that's a good position for me, I was an attacking player at the start of my career and I still like to attack, I would like to be the type of defender who can go on the attack when he has the ball and make things happen if the opportunity is there.

"I know I will have to bide my time with City and with Ireland, there is no guarantee I will get to play against Brazil and I haven't been involved with City since the Scunthorpe game so it will take time.

Challenge

"But I will keep my head down, keep working hard and I won't let myself get carried away over the next week or so.

"It will be great to have Shay Given with me next week with the Ireland squad and I might be asked to room with James McCarthy as we're both the same age and in the squad for the first time.

"It's all a big challenge but I feel very lucky to be here and I intend to make the most of the opportunity!"


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