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Villa's green teens step up

IRELAND hopeful Samir Carruthers believes that Aston Villa's batch of young Irish stars will get the chance to taste some Premier League action before the end of the season.

The Villa squad for Saturday's clash with Chelsea had a very strong Irish presence, as Shay Given and Stephen Ireland were in the starting XI while teenagers Carruthers, Derrick Williams and 16-year-old Jack Grealish -- all capped at underage for the Republic -- were on the bench.

Scarily, Grealish was just six months old when current Villa team-mate Given made his senior international debut under Mick McCarthy.

It was the second game in a row where Alex McLeish had placed 18-year-old Carruthers on the bench and while the Londoner, who qualifies for Ireland though his Dublin-born paternal grandfather, has yet to make his debut, he's confident that the chance will come for himself and his compatriots.

"It was brilliant to have three of the young Irish boys on the bench for the Chelsea game, it was a real boost to the confidence," Carruthers told the Herald. "I had been on the bench the previous week but it was the first time that Derrick and Jack were involved and it was a big deal for us all, even though we didn't get to play.

"If you're on the bench it means the manager thinks that you're good enough to play if needed, and hopefully myself and Derrick and Jack all have a good chance of getting a game before the end of the season."

Waterford lad Williams (19) has been promoted to the first team squad after some impressive displays in the Villa reserves while elevation to the bench for the Chelsea game capped off a whirlwind few days for midfielder Grealish, who began last week playing in Holland for the Ireland U17s in their ill-fated Euro qualifying campaign.

Saturday was an emotional day for all concerned at the club, the Chelsea tie coming just after the announcement that star midfielder Stilian Petrov had been diagnosed with leukaemia.

"We had to try and focus on the game but it was a tough few days," says Carruthers. "Stilian is a brilliant player and a great influence on younger players like me, sometimes I love to just watch him in training."

Carruthers, who celebrates his 19th birthday later this week, began his career with his local club, Arsenal, but after a four-year spell at their academy he opted to leave at the age of 16 and joined Villa.

Despite being eligible for Ireland, England, Italy and Morocco he declared for the Republic and impressed in the Irish U19 side which reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in Romania last summer. He's still eligible at U19 level and hopes to make the squad for their three-game qualifying tournament in Portugal next month, with the winners of that group going on to the Euro U19 finals in Estonia in July.