U-21 skipper Lenihan revels in Lambert's lofty Keane comparison
ROY KEANE might just see some of himself in Darragh Lenihan during Ireland's U-21 UEFA qualifier against Italy this evening at the Waterford RSC (6.0).
That's the opinion of Keane's former Aston Villa boss, Paul Lambert, who made Lenihan's face light up during a Blackburn Rovers reserve game in November by delivering the highest possible compliment.
"At half-time against Preston North End, the gaffer told me I reminded him of a young Roy Keane," beamed the midfield powerhouse.
"That was pleasing because, as a Manchester United fan growing up, Roy Keane was my idol."
Lambert's words have translated into action as he's deployed the Dunboyne native as a mainstay of his Rovers side since the new year.
Far from his precarious position he found himself in during Gary Bowyer's spell in charge, Lenihan's status as the club's future was demonstrated with the long-term contract granted to him recently.
"Things have happened overnight, to be honest," admits the former Belvedere player.
"I wouldn't have thought this was going to happen until the new manager came in last November.
"My contract was up this June and I wasn't even getting on the bench. Clubs were looking for me on loan but Gary Bowyer wouldn't let me go."
Lenihan has since blossomed from working under Lambert and playing alongside compatriot Shane Duffy.
With emerging Irish holding midfielders scarce, he watched with interest his U-21 colleagues Jack Byrne and Alan Browne receive invites to train with the senior squad this week. Lenihan mightn't be far behind the duo in Martin O'Neill's mind and he's glad to a link exists between the underage and senior ranks.
"Seeing Jack train with the seniors does give you belief," he insisted. "However, I'm only 22 and not the finished article. My concentration is on beating Italy with the U-21s."
Lenihan will likely be switched by manager Noel King from his usual central-defensive role for Ireland into midfield to try stem the anticipated barrage of breaks from the group leaders.
Trailing the table-toppers by four points, Ireland need a result to regain their ambitions of figuring in the qualification mix for next year's finals in Poland. After today's fixture, they travel to face Slovenia on Monday.
IRELAND (probable): I Lawlor (Bury); B Lenihan (Hull City), G Rea (Luton Town), S Long (Reading), Connors (Dagenham); D Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), K O'Connor (Cork City); C O'Dowda (Oxford United), J Byrne (SC Cambuur), B Miele (Shamrock Rovers); C Wilkinson (Newport County).