As Ireland’s U21 Euro campaign threatens to come unstuck, Aiden Keena feels he can aid their revival in Armenia tomorrow.
The Hearts striker was a late addition to Stephen Kenny’s squad over the weekend following a raft of withdrawals.
Ireland require a result in Yerevan to get their European Championship ambitions back on track after Iceland brought their unbeaten run to a shuddering halt in Reykjavik last month.
Kenny may be without the likes of firepower gems Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi in Yerevan but the Mullingar native thinks the gaps can be filled.
“It doesn’t matter that I got called in late due to injuries,” said the Mullingar native. “I’m here to play and will be confident if called upon.”
The arrival of Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan to swell the Irish contingent at Tynecastle has pleased the 20-year-old.
The veteran has joined compatriots Colin Doyle and Jake Mulraney at Hearts, the club who swooped for Keena from St Patrick’s Athletic.
“Glenn has been there and done that,” says the 20-year-old. “He sets high standards in training, which is what I like.”
Kenny also has to plan without injury victims Conor Masterson, Caoimhin Kelleher, Neil Farrugia and Trevor Clarke. Jayson Molumby and Lee O’Connor are suspended.
“Gavin Bazunu, at just 17 years of age, will make his Under-21 debut,” confirmed the next Ireland manager. “We’ve got a lot of changes in the back-four. Thomas O’Connor will come in and make his debut after his fantastic season so far at Gillingham.
“Danny McNamara, who has been in the squad since September, gets an opportunity and Nathan Collins, of course, who has been terrific at Stoke City so far this season.”
Ireland blazed to three straight victories in their campaign against Luxembourg, Armenia, and Sweden.
Top seeds Italy were held scoreless at Tallaght Stadium before the slip-up in Iceland.
“Armenia will be a different proposition at home,” added Kenny. “They had a fantastic victory over Luxembourg in the last round of games. We’re going into the game with the aim to win, these are our 11th and 12th matches of the year and we want to end this year on a high.”
Craig Levein, who Keena brands “Mr Hearts” has just left Hearts for the second time.
Keena, with nine appearances behind him this season, hopes it doesn’t disrupt his progress.
“I’ve a lot to thank Craig for because he gave me my breakthrough,” he said. “New managers can have different ideas on young players but I’d look at going on loan in January if I don’t get into the team.”