Thursday 13 December 2018

Cullen content to bide his time for chance on senior scene

Josh Cullen with his U 21 Player of the Year award. Photo: Sportsfile
Josh Cullen with his U 21 Player of the Year award. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

After savouring unbroken progress for two years, Josh Cullen is convinced the lull he's experiencing is all just part of his career path.

The West Ham United midfielder and Ireland U-21 captain had been expected to form part of the new breed being blooded by Martin O'Neill in Turkey this week but admits there's work to be done on the club circuit for his credentials to be beyond question.

Cullen, named FAI U-21 Player of the Year on Sunday night, harbours nothing but admiration towards his friend Declan Rice for overtaking him at club and international level.

As the elder of the London-born pair, 21-year-old Cullen has taken a more scenic route since getting thrown into his Premier League debut at Anfield in 2015, helping Bradford City to the League One play-off final last season before stepping up a level on the loan ladder this term.

He featured a dozen times in the Championship for newly-promoted Bolton Wanderers before being recalled by David Moyes in January.

Adding to the three full games he got in the FA Cup by sampling the Premier League in the run-in for the strugglers holds the key to his international promotion.

"I've always been on the smaller side, so had to learn how to combat that with what I'm good at," explained the 5ft 9in playmaker.

"I've had to do it in the Championship this season and felt towards the end of my loan spell that I'd gotten to grips with that level.

"I've been on the West Ham bench for most games since returning and I'm confident in my own ability.

"If the manager told me that I'm starting the next game, I'd have no problem stepping up and be confident of doing a good job."

With a double-header friendly against France and USA still to come in the summer, Cullen doesn't fear he's missed the boat in terms of O'Neill's rebuilding project.

"I'm not one for allowing this U-21 award go to my head by thinking it means I'll automatically be knocking on the door of the senior squad," said Noel King's skipper ahead of tomorrow's friendly against Iceland at Tallaght Stadium.

"I'll put all the work in that's needed and wait for my chance to come at West Ham.

"It's hard to tell how close or far away from the senior Ireland squad that I am but pulling on the green jersey at senior level has been an ambition of mine growing up."

Meanwhile, Ireland's U-17 and U-19 squads begin their quest to reach their respective European Championship finals today.

The U-19s open their elite group against Slovakia in Fão (3.0) before meeting Kosovo on Saturday and conclude next Tuesday against mini-group hosts and favourites Portugal.

For the U-17s, they play Macedonia in the first of three games in Poland (4.30pm).

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