Mikey Johnston: 'I made this decision; people respect that or they don't.'

Scotland's loss looks like it will be Ireland's gain following the winger's exciting cameo against Latvia on Wednesday.
Mikey Johnston: 'I made this decision; people respect that or they don't.'

JINKY JOHNSTON: Mikey Johnston of Republic of Ireland in action against Roberts Savalnieks and Alvis Jaunzems of Latvia during the international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Latvia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Mikey Johnston was relieved that his Ireland career didn't end before it began over breakfast.

The winger delivered a swift and scintillating introduction to Ireland fans on Wednesday night against Latvia by setting up the winner within seconds of being sprung from the bench.

All the qualities that had made Johnston one of Scotland’s most precocious talents were evident as he slalomed inside from the left before cracking his shot off the post from which Chiedozie Ogbene gobbled up the rebound.

Word of Johnston’s Irish links were ventilated long before he finally declared at 23 but he was concerned it mightn’t happen despite making his mind up to defect from his native Scotland.

On loan for the season at Vitória Guimarães from Celtic, Ireland manager Stephen Kenny flew to Portugal to see his latest recruitment candidate in the flesh.

“I had arranged to meet Stephen for breakfast the morning after the game but was disappointed that he came over and I didn't even get a bloody minute in the match,” he revealed. “It was a wee bit in my head that he wouldn't pick me.”

Misplaced stress, as it transpires. Johnston was parachuted straight into the squad for this window’s double-header against Latvia and France.

“Stephen had watched enough games, with his staff analysing my games, to select me. He just wanted to meet up with me. He's a great man and manager – everyone knows that – so I am delighted that he has shown faith in me.” Johnston isn’t the only rising star to have their progress stunted by injuries but now the challenge is to find a place for regular games.

That may be back at Celtic, for whom he played in four Cup finals before Ange Postecoglou decided a season on the continent accrued mutual gains.

“It's not like I was pushed out the door,” asserted the Glaswegian.

“I still played 20 games for Celtic last season, including a Cup final for him (Postecoglou), and he gave me a year's contract extension when I left for Portugal.

“That gave me the faith to say he wants me to come back to the club and produce. There's a lot of players in that position, maybe six or seven wingers including myself and I needed consistency for more minutes. We had an honest conversation.”

Whereas the obvious switch was within Scotland or south of the border, Johnston craved for a stage that suited his technical traits.

“Opinions on me weren't accurate and I wanted to change that,” confessed the flanker, who represented Scotland till U21 level. “I needed a bit of a freshen-up and had to get away from the UK, to be honest.”

There were shades of Aiden McGeady to the shimmies that swept him past defenders on his 30 minute cameo but the latest Glaswegian doesn’t feel he’ll suffer the backlash that McGeady or James McCarthy did for switching allegiance.

“I think times have changed - there were reasons for that,” he reasons for the different landscape.

“I made this decision; people respect that or they don't. I am my own man and they'll never know the reasons why I did it.”

A similar impact against the French on Monday will have the jilted lamenting how they let him slip.

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