Sunday 15 December 2019

Collins hopes U-21 debut can lead to senior call-up

Nathan Collins. Photo: Sportsfile
Nathan Collins. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Even if it's come a bit later than envisaged, Nathan Collins views today's Ireland U-21 debut as a pathway to senior progression.

The strapping defender was prominent on the list of prospects from his key role in successive U-17 European Championship finals appearances. That was before he broke into Stoke City's Championship side by the age of 17.

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Something had to give amid his rise and it proved to be Ireland's first appearance for eight years at the U-19 European finals.

The showpiece in Romania last July clashed with Stoke's pre-season preparation and his employers put the foot down.

A calf injury prevented him making his U-21 bow in September. That, ironically, was also against Armenia. Such was his pace of his ascent that Collins was also included on the long list for Mick McCarthy's full squad.

The 18-year-old recovered from his knock to make the bench for last month's U-21 double-header and has now been confirmed by Kenny as one of four debutants for this afternoon's Euro qualifier in Yerevan.

Hailing from a famous footballing family stretching back to his grandfather, Transport's 1950 FAI Cup-winning skipper Michael Collins, the latest member is poised to break new ground within the dynasty.

His uncle Eamonn and father Dave both came close to earning senior caps in the 1980s and 1990s respectively. Barring a catastrophe, senior honours await for Ireland's most promising defensive teen talent.

"It is always a proud moment for my family when representing Ireland," he said last night.

"I would have liked to be at the Euros in the summer but Stoke wanted to keep me for my first full pre-season with the first-team. I think that really helped my game."

Collins has no reason to fear Stoke's new manager Michael O'Neill won't also look upon him favourably. His predecessor Nathan Jones propelled the youngster in his team and handed him the captaincy for the League Cup win over Wigan Athletic.

His next outing in the competition wasn't so fruitful when getting sent-off against Crawley Town eight weeks ago.

Collins is just one component of a new-look defence on show today. Gavin Bazunu, at just 17, starts in goal behind three fellow newcomers in Collins and full-backs Danny McNamara and Thomas O'Connor.

Ireland cannot afford any more set-backs after Iceland inflicted a first defeat of the campaign last month.

Despite still being top of Group One, Italy and Iceland have fewer games played than Ireland. Dropping points to a lower seed could prove fatal to their Euro ambitions.

  • Armenia U-21 v Ireland U-21, Live, eir Sport 1, 12.0

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