Noel King’s under-21s eager to follow Brian Lenihan’s lead

Ireland underage manager happy to see another former player step up to senior level

Brian Lenihan (right) has been called up to the senior Ireland squad after just 45 minutes with the under-21s. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Brian Lenihan (right) has been called up to the senior Ireland squad after just 45 minutes with the under-21s. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Brian Lenihan’s surprise elevation to the senior squad will act as an inspiration to the Republic of Ireland Under-21 side that faces Norway Thursday evening’s friendly in Dramman (6pm, Irish time).

The Hull City defender had played only 45 minutes at under-21 level – in a friendly against Qatar in May while still a Cork City player – before Monday’s call-up by Martin O’Neill arrived.

Lenihan becomes the latest graduate from King’s crew, a tradition that began early during his tenure with Séamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Cillian Sheridan making the step up. Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Shane Duffy have since followed, as will Jack Grealish if he chooses against declaring for England.

“The door to the senior squad is open for this squad,” said King today. “Many of their team-mates from the earlier underage squads have already made the step-up and we’re delighted Brian has been selected by Martin in such rapid fashion. I’m certain there are players with us here in Norway who will win full caps in the future.”

Like his predecessors, Lenihan departs for a higher stage with King’s blessing, even if it harms his plans to assemble his strongest possible side in time for the next European Championship qualification campaign that begins midway through 2015.

The latest batch of under-21s will have contested five matches before the draw for that series is made in February, with tomorrow’s workout marking the midpoint of the experimentation phase.

“We’ve another two games against USA and Russia in Marbella next month, so we’ll have had a good look at the players available to us by that point,” King explained.

“Winning the matches is important but the priority is to give all the squad a run-out at some stage today.”

Striker Sam Byrne, recruited by Everton from Manchester United in the summer, will make his debut along with Preston North End midfield mainstay Alan Browne and Shelbourne winger Dylan Connolly.

Rep of Ireland (probable): I Lawlor (Manchester City); S Long (Reading), E O’Connell (Celtic), T Hoban (Watford), J Connors (Dagenham & Redbridge); D Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), A Browne (Preston North End); D Connolly (Shelbourne), J Byrne (Manchester City), K McEvoy (Peterborough United); S Byrne (Everton).

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