'We are going out to beat arrogant Italy' - Conor Masterson sounds battle cry ahead of massive night for Kenny's side
Straight-talkers are rare in football but Ireland U-21 defender Conor Masterson doesn't hold back in branding tonight's opponents Italy as "arrogant".
That directness extends to his club career at QPR. Despite struggling for game-time since moving from Liverpool in the summer, the 21-year-old feels he's a better player than the rivals keeping him out.
As an added bonus, his views on Ryan Manning's international exclusion by Mick McCarthy are unequivocal. His clubmate should be on the plane to Georgia today.
His immediate task is shackling Italy's glistening forward line at a sold-out Tallaght Stadium.
Three successive wins in their Euro qualifying campaign will be tested against the top seeds.
However, Masterson is respectful rather than fearful of the visitors and the 21-year-old has first-hand research to support his stance.
Some of his opponents were on the opposite side at U-19 level in March 2017. Patrick Cutrone led the Italian line. The Dubliner, partnered at the back by Declan Rice, held them scoreless as Ireland recorded a 2-0 victory.
"I remember well that match and marking Cutrone," said Masterson. "He is a bustling forward but the Italians didn't like us pressing them that day.
"Italy are a big footballing nation and have that arrogance about them.
"We're going out to beat them again tonight. We'll be pressing again and trying to control the game."
Cutrone is likely to be supported in attack by Everton's Moise Kean. Captain Manuel Locatelli and Sandro Tonali will harness the midfield while Roberto Mancini has allowed defenders Alessandro Bastoni and Luca Pellegrini drop down from his senior squad for a match that manager Paolo Nicolato yesterday referred to as "complicated".
In contrast to Ireland's three matches, the Azzurri's only outing in the campaign to date was last month's 5-0 thumping of Luxembourg. They are still fancied to claim the sole automatic berth from the group for the 2021 finals hosted by Hungary and Slovenia.
Defeat for Ireland will send them into a battle for second with Sweden and their next opponents on Tuesday, Iceland. All of the runners-up across the groups are assured of a play-off to reach the expanded 12-team tournament. The best second-placed finisher from the nine pools skips that obstacle.
Meanwhile, Masterson is encountering an obstacle of his own on the domestic front.
Mark Warburton brought him to Loftus Road with a view to easing him into the first-team over a two-year contract. That plan remains intact with the former Lucan United player has getting close to the action by making the bench for Championship and League Cup ties.
"The gaffer is coming over to watch me tonight," beamed Masterson, who scored last time out in the 3-1 win over Sweden.
"He signed me as a development player so I have to respect the more experienced lads who are in the team.
"Some have played hundreds of games but I believe I'm better than them. Hopefully I get my chance to show it."
He thought his compatriot Manning might be in Georgia this week. "Ryan has done so well for us at left wing-back that I'm surprised he's not in the senior squad. I think he is too."
Masterson will just have to mind himself, as well as Cutrone, for the time being.
IRELAND (probable) - C Kelleher (Liverpool); L O'Connor (Celtic), D O'Shea (West Brom), C Masterson (QPR), L Scales (UCD); J Molumby (Millwall), C Coventry (West Ham United); C Ronan (DAC Dunajská Streda), T Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), G Kilkenny (AFC Bournemouth); A Idah (Norwich City).
Ireland U-21s v Italy U-21s
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