King praises Watford star Murray as he hints senior call on cards
NOEL KING has backed Watford's Sean Murray to push on and represent Ireland at senior level after an enlightening spell as caretaker in the top job opened his eyes to what is necessary.
The Dubliner was thrilled by the opportunity to work with Ireland's main players in last month's World Cup qualifiers with Germany and Kazakhstan, but the stint has also convinced him that he has players at U-21 level that have the ability to ascend to the next level.
King was in the unusual position of drafting Martin O'Neill's squad for the senior friendlies with Latvia and Poland at the same time that he constructed the U-21 gathering for the qualifiers with Faroe Islands in Sligo this Friday and Montenegro in Podgorica next Tuesday.
His longer list for the senior encounters featured some of the younger group before cutting it down and, while he refused to divulge specifics, he acknowledged the potential of attacker Murray, who has shone for Watford this term after a frustrating campaign last time around.
"He's been terrific," said King, "He was terrific with the U-19s, he was great for us at the start and then he had a little dip in his club form, which happens when you're so young. He's looking like a real top prospect. I wouldn't like to put that pressure (likelihood of senior cap) on him but I think so, yeah.
"I think it's a good thing playing with an Italian manager (Gianfranco Zola). European style football, playing a different system than a normal 4-4-2, it's a good learning curve for himself and (clubmate) Connor Smith."
Murray (20) was an important player for King's assistant Harry McCue in his October meetings with Romania which, frustratingly, ended in a draw away and a 1-0 defeat on home soil. "I only asked him to do one thing!" joked King, with a nod to his friend McCue with the latter explaining how refereeing decisions affected both fixtures, meaning Ireland are playing catch-up in their group.
They need six points from this pair of fixtures to get back into the shake-up. Callum Reilly and Matt Doherty are available again, with John O'Sullivan and Will Hayhurst (a grandparent rule addition) coming into the frame also.
Long-term absentee John Egan is on standby but another Irishman at Watford, Tommie Hoban, still has work to do in his recuperation from a complicated ankle problem.
Fixtures – November 15: Ireland v Faroe Islands (Showgrounds, 3.45), November 19: Montenegro v Ireland (Podgorica 4.0)
Ireland U-21 (squad) – McCarey (Wolves), McDermott (Sandnes Ulf); Doherty (Wolves), Harriman (QPR, loan at Gillingham), Duffy (Everton, loan at Yeovil), McGinty (Sheff Utd), Williams (Bristol City), O'Connor (Blackburn, loan at Torquay), Dunne (Blackpool, loan at Wycombe); O'Sullivan (Blackburn), Shaughnessy (Aberdeen), Reilly (Birmingham), Forde (Wolves), Murray (Watford), Carruthers (Aston Villa, loan at MK Dons), Grealish (Aston Villa, loan at Notts County), O'Brien (Millwall), Hayhurst (Preston), Smith (Watford).