Monday 18 December 2017

Dunne paves way in greening of Clark

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE influence of Richard Dunne was significant in securing the capture of the young defender who could be his long-term replacement for both club and country.

Aston Villa confirmed a fortnight ago that centre-half Ciaran Clark, who had captained England at underage level, had committed his international future to the Republic of Ireland.

The 21-year-old elaborated on his decision yesterday, stating that he would love to be considered for next month's friendly match with Norway.

Certainly, Giovanni Trapattoni will be under a certain amount of pressure to bring the highly-rated Clark into his squad sooner rather than later in case he thinks about changing his mind.

However, the Londoner seems firm in his convictions, which is good news for Irish fans wondering who'll replace Dunne when his time runs out.

Dunne's partner, Sean St Ledger, still hasn't graduated to the top flight, while Darren O'Dea has failed to really push on in his career in that position. The other options are just short of the required level.

Therefore, much is expected of Clark and another convert, Everton's Shane Duffy, who turned his back on Northern Ireland after captaining their U-21 side.

The graduate of the Aston Villa youth academy has an Irish mother and his father's side of the family also hail from this part of the world. It was Dunne who alerted the FAI of his eligibility, and also played a role in selling Ireland to the emerging talent. Clearly, Clark feels there is a real chance of being promoted into the squad in the near future.

"I didn't think I was going anywhere really with England and when a young lad gets an opportunity like this, then it's hard to turn down," said Clark, who skippered England at U-18 and U-19 level.

"Richard mentioned it to Ireland and they got in contact with me after the first week of the season and gave me time to think about it.

"If all the paperwork has gone through by the next game, then I'll be in contention, so fingers crossed." Clark is well regarded at Villa Park, part of a new generation of players who flourished under the tutelage of Kevin MacDonald.

He wasn't allowed to go out on loan last year, instead waiting behind Richard Dunne and James Collins, who forged an impressive partnership.

This season has offered more chances, with three Premier League outings and also a start in Gerard Houllier's bow -- a League Cup tie with Blackburn. "He's absolutely brilliant," Dunne said. "For Ireland it'll be outstanding to have a young player of his talent in the squad."

Dunne expressed the hope that Clark's choice might encourage other players who qualify that are in a similar dilemma. "Sometimes you get to a point where you can't see any more players coming through for Ireland. So, if you can get players like Clarky playing, then others might decide to follow him."

Irish Independent

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