Team-mates at Blackburn Rovers, and now in with a shout of getting their first senior Irish caps, Derrick Williams and Darragh Lenihan have taken wildly contrasting routes to Turkey.
The son of an American father and Irish mother, Williams is eligible to play for three countries as a result of well-travelled childhood.
“I was born in Germany, my dad was in the (US) army, and we moved to South Carolina when I was a baby,” the 25-year-old explains.
“Then I moved to Ireland when I was about six and started playing football when I was seven or eight. I played for Tramore, then Waterford, and moved to Aston Villa when I was 15.”
Lenihan’s life path was more straightforward but not without its own different kind of eligibility issue.
The Dunboyne native, if capped, would become the first Meath man to play senior international football for Ireland, something that has only been made possible by his decision not to try to emulate his brother Donal who plays Gaelic football for the county.
“My brother and family have been very supportive since I went to England six, seven years ago,” he says.
“They’re proud of me getting called up, as well as my brother playing for Meath. I could have played county level, yeah. Andy McEntee, who is the manager now, spoke to me, said ‘we need you for the Leinster final’. It was a minor final against Dublin. I said I was under contract at Blackburn and couldn’t play. Football was the one I started with at four years of age.”
Life is good for both men at Blackburn who, currently leading the League One table, are looking to bounce back up to the Championship at the first attempt.
Despite their relegation last season, left-back Williams won the club’s Player of the Year award and, with something like 200 games under his belt now, feels vindicated in his decision to leave Aston Villa for Bristol Rovers before moving on to Ewood Park.
For 24-year-old midfielder Lenihan, there’s the added satisfaction that his Irish call-up comes after he experienced just about the worst possible start imaginable to his season with Blackburn, a club he joined straight from Belvedere seven years ago.
“Yeah, first game I got injured with a broken metatarsal, so I had to get surgery on it,” he says.
“Took me about five months to get back.”
Little surprise then that he describes Ireland’s call as “a dream come true for me” and, like his club mate Williams, is hoping he gets a chance to, literally, cap off a rewarding week in Antalya tomorrow.
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