Friday 17 November 2017

German shock an inspiration for U-21 skipper Lenihan

Republic of Ireland's Darragh Lenihan
Republic of Ireland's Darragh Lenihan

John Fallon

Watching the senior team topple Germany last week has given Ireland U-21 captain Darragh Lenihan confidence that his side can inflict a similar shock on Italy in Vicenza today (4.00).

Noel King's side approach their fourth UEFA European Championship fixture with a maximum nine points, three more than the exalted opponents they face today in what will undeniably be their biggest task of the campaign to date.

Five-time winner of this trophy, the Italians will consider Ireland nothing more than a minor obstacle on their way to the next tournament in 2017 in Holland, but Lenihan cited the senior side's victory over the World Champions as an inspiration in maintaining their own ambitions of ending their qualification duck.

"We know Italy will be tough but look what the senior team did to Germany last week," said the Blackburn Rovers defender, who joined from Belvedere at 16 having spent a decade at the famous schoolboys club.

"Nobody gave Ireland much of a chance against the world champions but they pulled off a shock and we want to do the same.

"Anything is possible and we're going into the match full of confidence with three wins and three clean sheets behind us."

Dunboyne native Lenihan, as comfortable in midfield as he is for King at centre-back, has found his route to progression at Blackburn blocked by a compatriot.

Shane Duffy and Grant Hanley were the defenders he sought to dislodge after choosing to accept a contract extension following a season on the rise.

Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink took the Irishman under his wing on loan at Burton Albion, Lenihan playing 17 games over a campaign in which the Brewers gained promotion to League One.

Back at Blackburn towards the end of the season, he was thrust into action for the final three Championship games.

Unfortunately this term, due to the Duffy and Hanley partnership, Lenihan has been restricted to one League Cup outing and has his eyes trained on another loan spell.

"I'm depending on one of the boys getting injured, so I think I'll be going out on loan again after this international break," he said.

"I enjoyed my loan at Burton last season. Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink is a manager I learned lots from and I can see going very far in the game.

"Burton got promotion and are now top of League One. I'm not sure whether I can go back there, it's all up the air for now."

King, with no changes to the squad that beat Lithuania 3-0 on Friday, has already humbled the Italians.

On his last trip here three years ago, the Ireland boss masterminded a 4-2 victory in what represents the standout display and result of his five-year term.

"Another result like that would be nice," said King. "Italy are rated the best team in the group and have players operating at Serie A level."

IRELAND U-21 (probable): D Rogers (Falkirk); S Long (Reading), G Rea (Southend Utd), D Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), J Connors (Dagenham); A Browne (Preston NE), J Byrne (SC Cambuur), J Cullen (West Ham); C O'Dowda (Oxford Utd), C Wilkinson (Barnsley), S Kavanagh (Fulham).

Irish Independent

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