Capping an extraordinary first full year in senior football, the former City full-back was yesterday fast-tracked into the Ireland squad. With Everton’s Seamus Coleman ruled out of the games against Gibraltar and Germany, opportunity has suddenly knocked for the 20-year-old, who recently signed for Hull City but who has yet to make his debut for the Premier League club.
“We don’t have a natural right-back in the team,” said Martin O’Neill yesterday. “I haven’t seen him (Lenihan) myself but reports have been good and he’s settled in well at Hull. The lads (Ireland’s Hull contingent) have said he’s been excellent in training. So we’ll see, we’ll bring him along anyway.”
But Lenihan’s former boss on Leeside believes there’s a case for the manager’s assessment of Lenihan to extend even to the pitch itself, when Ireland take on the group minnows at the Aviva Stadium.
“If ever there was a game where you were going to have a look at him in a competitive situation, it would be this one,” said Cauflield. “Their best players, one of them is at Preston and the other is non-league. And Brian, to be fair to him, has played at the highest level here, which probably is similar to one of the English divisions.
“It’s going to be a game where you’re going to get on the ball a lot, and his strengths are pace going forward and getting crosses into the box. And if there was any game in the whole bloody group where you could afford to give him half an hour and see what he’s like, this is it. I don’t know whether Martin would look at it like that, but from where I’m looking in, this would be the ideal opportunity.
“The type of guy he is, he’s quiet and shy but he has an inner confidence about him. The type of guy I think who would step up to the mark. What I’d admire about him is that when English clubs come over to look at a player, that’s when the pressure and the anxiety can come in. He was in the press for the guts of three or four months and being asked in Cork about it every day, and it was character-defining. And all through that, to be fair to the lad, he kept his head down, kept training, never changed his routine and his level of performance was outstanding.”
Warmly welcoming the Hull player’s call-up, Caulfield added: “It’s fantastic for Brian, it’s an unbelievable achievement. Obviously, there are injuries but I think it’s obvious that, if we had a foreign manager in charge of Ireland, he wouldn’t be called up. Having Martin in charge and the Roy connection obviously help, but it’s great for Lenny and the club.”
One obvious option as a replacement for Coleman on Saturday would be Lenihan’s fellow Corkman and now Hull club-mate, David Meyler.
“I’ve just been asked that question because we played him there in the Oman game,” said O’Neill. “We’ll have a look at it during the course of the week. We’ll see. There might be somebody else who comes in between now and then, depending on whether we pick up one or two little injuries.”
While Coleman is definitely out of both games, James McCarthy’s chances of making the Germany match next Tuesday are no better than “pretty slim”, according to O’Neill. Both players, he confirmed yesterday, are struggling with hamstring problems.
As to the timeframe for their recovery, O’Neill observed: “I’m hoping that Seamus and James will be available, if not for us now, then for Scotland (next month). But I just don’t know.”