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Williams and Lenihan profit from O'Neill taking look towards League One


Derrick Williams Photo: Sportsfile

Derrick Williams Photo: Sportsfile

Derrick Williams Photo: Sportsfile

With the exception of the goalkeeping department, Martin O'Neill has tended to overlook League One players during his time as Ireland manager.

He has changed that approach for this trip to Turkey to bring in Blackburn Rovers pair Derrick Williams and Darragh Lenihan.

The defensive duo are hoping to escape that level shortly with their employer top of the table and on course to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt.

Certainly, they feel comfortable around the Ireland squad with a number of old colleagues from both club and country present in the Turkish training camp ahead of tomorrow's friendly in Antalya.

"I know a good few of the lads here," explained Williams, the son of an American father and Irish mother who was born in Germany while his dad served in the US army. "There's Kissa (Ciaran Clark) and Enda Stevens from Aston Villa and I know Shane Duffy and Jeff Hendrick from underage and a few others so it's nice knowing them coming in.

"It is definitely a step up but I don't feel out of place. I feel like I'm doing well at the moment but just bedding in really, taking it all in."

Williams has played over 200 club games since leaving Aston Villa for Bristol City in 2013 and then moving onto Blackburn three years later.

He felt that he had to step out of his comfort zone to learn the trade.

"I've seen people stay at clubs and then when their contract has run out, they leave themselves struggling really and I didn't want to go down that route," he explains.

"I wanted to throw myself in at the deep end and see what I could do really because I was a young lad going into a first team and I was a centre-back who was regarded as small back then but I made it my position; I worked hard and it worked out."

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Williams plays a lot of his football at left-back or on the left of a defensive three where he frequently partners Lenihan who, by contrast, is a one-club man to this point. He sat out training yesterday with a heel problem, a minor ailment compared to the setbacks he has encountered in his short career.

As a teenager at Blackburn, a double stress fracture in his back ruined Lenihan's first full year at the club.

Since breaking into the side, he's suffered the frustration of layoffs too, most recently a broken metatarsal in his club's opening game of the League One season.

The 24-year-old only made his comeback at the beginning of February so that's why this call has come as a pleasant surprise.

"Even when I was named in provisional squad I didn't think I'd get in because the lads in my position have more experience," said Lenihan, a Belvedere product who can play in midfield but has primarily been deployed in defence of late. It's a dream come true for me. Hopefully, I can take my chance."

The Meathman's brother Donal is involved with the county's senior GAA set-up and the pro footballer could have gone down that path too as a teen.

"Andy McEntee, who is the manager now, spoke to me and said, 'We need you for the Leinster final' - it was a minor final against Dublin," he recalled. "I said I was under contract at Blackburn and couldn't play. I don't think he understood the repercussions if I did play in that game."

Meath have waited a long time for representation at Irish senior level. Injury permitting, that wait could end tomorrow.

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