Sunday 25 February 2018

Anthony Pilkington - 'I want to do well for the country'

Player finally gets Green light after injury frustrations

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Whata difference a deadline day makes.

On the day the January transfer window shut, the FAI made the slightly unfortunate decision to send an Ireland jersey and passport to Norwich to greet Anthony Pilkington's confirmation of his interest in representing Giovanni Trapattoni's men at senior international level. After winning just one U-21 cap, the Blackburn native had a bit of thinking to do before fully committing to the cause.

That photo-shoot ended up looking a bit daft when the 'new signing' was consistently unavailable for duty.

But yesterday, it was finally official. He was alive, in Malahide and on the training ground next to his new international colleagues as preparations kicked off for the crucial World Cup ties with Sweden and Austria.

Afterwards, the elusive 25-year-old was put forward to speak about his interrupted journey to here, thus providing more clarity on troublesome tendonitis in his knee, and offer an explanation for the proliferation of sicknotes that preceded his belated arrival into the fold.

"When I went to see the specialist who gave me the injection, he said it will never really leave me," explains the bearded wonder. "It never leaves you alone. You have good weeks and bad weeks and it's just how you manage it.

"It hit me around Christmas time last season and since then it's been niggling away at me. I also picked up hamstring injuries towards the end of last season which was obviously disappointing; the physio said that was a little bit linked with the knee as well. It was frustrating getting called up to the squad and having to pull out.

"The first time, we were playing QPR – an early kick-off on Sky – and I had my suitcase packed and was ready. But then I pulled up with a hamstring. I was due to fly over with Wes (Hoolahan) that afternoon, so that was disappointing. And after that I've been a bit unlucky with the recurring knee problems. But hopefully that's behind me now and I can concentrate on doing well for the country."

The saga surrounding his availability has overshadowed an interesting back story, his unlikely ascent to this level.

Pilkington, who qualifies through his deceased grandmother, Joan, from Templeogue in Dublin, dropped out of Blackburn Rovers as a teenager when he didn't make it at scholarship level and fell out of love with the lifestyle. He still had a passion for the game, with Damien Duff a favourite of the Ewood Park regular, and went to college.

"Football studies," he explains. "Coaching badges, different sciences to work with football. I started enjoying football again, playing with the college team, and then into non-league.

"Obviously, I didn't think then I would end up in the Premier League, because of the standard I was playing at – the third division of a Sunday league, a pub league on a Sunday morning, but I started to play well, Stockport asked me if I could go training there a few times a week and it went from there."

From there, he progressed to Huddersfield and then to Norwich, climbing the divisions to the top tier. A competitive international appearance would be another feather in his cap, although both Giovanni Trapattoni and the player himself appear to be of the opinion that Friday might come a little soon in terms of full involvement. Trapattoni wants the newcomer to learn his system, while Pilkington cites a lack of match practice.

"I've only played 70 minutes in the last few months. I played against Bury last Tuesday and the previous game was in the first week of pre-season," he says. "I have not played a lot of football and not trained much but I have been working hard in the gym at Norwich with the fitness coaches. So I feel alright; I've brought a programme here with me this week.


"Some days it will feel sore. That's when I have got to be honest with the manager and say, 'Listen boss, it's a little bit sore today'.

"Maybe last year I was not honest with myself and the medical team because all you want to do really is to play football. I probably stayed out there too long – I was not really helping myself and making the injury worse."

Last night, Pilkington was relaxing with his room-mate Hoolahan, watching the drama unfold across the water.

"He's a little magician," he says, with a nod to the Dubliner. "When he's on his day, he is unstoppable. I cannot believe he has not got more caps; but he's a fantastic little player."

Pilkington, an attacking midfielder who can operate on either flank, is also highly thought-of within the game. This week is about showing he has been worth the wait.

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