Williams out to match Dunne's Euro exploits
GIVEN that he was just five years old and living in North Carolina at the time, Ireland U-19 defender Derrick Williams could be forgiven for not being aware that his Aston Villa colleague Richard Dunne was a European U-18 Championship winner in 1998.
This, in fact, was actually the situation when the pair chatted a fortnight ago on the first day back at Villa first-team training under new boss Alex McLeish.
Dunne (31) wished the rookie, who is 13 years his junior, the best of luck for this week's finals without boasting of his glorious feat alongside Robbie Keane in Cyprus all those years ago.
It was only a few days later in Italy when Waterford native Williams joined up with the current crop of proteges that this fact came up in conversation.
"I didn't know Richard had won it, to be honest," said the defender sheepishly yesterday at the team hotel in Bucharest ahead of tonight's European Championship Group A opener against Greece.
"At Villa, I just try to watch and learn from him because he's what I want to be playing like when I'm older. He's definitely a role model for me because I play in the same position.
"Last season when I was training with Villa's first team a few times, Richard kept telling me to relax and enjoy it. He just said: 'You're so young.' Richard is sound like that. If he thinks you're down, he'll come up and ask if you're okay."
Born in Germany to an American father and Irish mother, it wasn't until he reached his seventh birthday that Williams' nomadic period of his life was halted. His dad's position in the US Army meant travelling was the way of life back then, but once settled in Tramore, Co Waterford, his football education took flight.
"I had tried playing baseball when I was based in America for a few years between living in Germany and Ireland," he said. "Then, when we moved to Ireland, I got involved in basketball -- all sports really -- and started playing football on the green with the lads."
His talent while performing for Tramore AFC and Waterford in the U-13 Kennedy Cup brought him admirers across the water and, at 15, he took a decision few would have been brave enough to make.
"Manchester United offered me a contract, which was very nice of them," said Williams with a hint of modesty. "However, I liked Aston Villa and, in the end, I preferred to join them.
"Before I signed for Villa, I sat down and asked myself whether they produce players from their youth ranks and give them their chance.
"When I looked at the amount of players that have gone through from the youth team manager Tony McAndrew into the first team, I thought I'd like to sign. I felt I'd be given my chance."
It's worked out to be a sensible decision to date and, while he may be too raw just yet to follow the likes of Ciaran Clark and Mark Albrighton into the first-team starting XI, the teen has a special place in the eyes of Villa legend and first-team coach Gordon Cowans.
"Although a new manager has come in, it's good that Gordon Cowans' role hasn't changed. He was my U-16 manager at Villa. I worked with him for a while, he's good and he knows what I'm about. I think he likes me!"
Tonight, 18-year-old Williams will start at left-back against Greece for the fourth competitive game in a row under Paul Doolin, despite being young enough to be eligible for the qualifiers next season.
"We've been watching videos of Greece over the last few days and their wingers are fast, so hopefully I can do well against them," he said.
It's just the latest of many challenges the tyro has been faced, but at least this time he can look to his role model's own European glory as an inspiration.
•Meanwhile, Manchester United youngster Robbie Brady - who captained the U-19s in the initial qualifying stage - has gone on loan to Hull City until the end of the year.
Ireland (v Greece, probable) -- McCarey (Wolves); Doherty (Wolves), Egan (Sunderland), O'Connor (Blackburn R), Williams (Aston Villa); Carruthers (Aston Villa), O'Sullivan (Blackburn R), Ferdinand (Southend U), Hendrick (Derby Co), Forde (Wolves); Murphy (Bray W).
Ireland's four to watch
Matt Doherty (Wolves)
Spotted by Mick McCarthy during a pre-season friendly at Dalymount Park last season, Doherty had never played for Bohemians when Wolves paid £70,000 for his services last season. Made his first-team debut in the FA Cup against Doncaster. A quick full-back, his raids forward will be key for Doolin's men.
John Egan (Sunderland)
Son of the Kerry football legend of the same name, captain Egan will lead his side from the back in Romania. Raised in Cork, the centre-half is an aggressive defender and was joint-skipper of the Sunderland youth team last season.
Kane Ferdinand (Southend)
A cousin of Rio and Anton, Kane Ferdinand qualifies for Ireland through his Dublin-born father and has already played 22 times for League Two side Southend. A tigerish defensive midfielder, he has been linked with moves to West Ham, Ipswich and Burnley.
Conor Murphy (Bray Wanderers)
A trainee at Middlesbrough, Murphy returned home to play for Shamrock Rovers but has made his name for Bray this season, scoring seven goals in the league. Likely to play up front on his own, the striker's coolness under pressure and strength to hold up ball will be key.