History has taught Republic of Ireland U21 boss Noel King to be cautious about forecasting big futures for his bright young things.
He did, however, break from his usual conservatism yesterday while announcing an 18-man squad for tomorrow’s Uefa qualifier against Montenegro to pinpoint a special talent in the ranks.
Aston Villa teenager Jack Grealish has excelled on loan at Notts County to such an extent that senior boss Martin O’Neill admitted he considered promoting the tyro for the friendly against Serbia on the same day.
King reckons it’s only a matter of time before Grealish displays his considerable talent on a higher stage.
“For his sake, I hope to lose him soon,” admitted King. “He’s a very exciting player and reminds me a bit of Robbie Brady when he started with our U21s and was running the show.
“He made his debut for us in August at only 17. Now, after getting plenty of international and club games under his belt, he’s even stronger.
“I thought he’d struggle a little bit physically in League One for Notts County but it’s been quite the opposite as he’s more than holding his own.
“Without putting too much pressure on him to develop year on year, by the time he is 21, you could have a very good talent.”
King shares O’Neill’s sentiments from last week that Ireland’s emerging talents are finding it more difficult to make an impact in the Premier League. “From the last U21 group, we had great hopes for Conor Henderson, Adam Barton, Greg Cunningham and Conor Clifford because they’re excellent players,” he outlined before adding ominously, “but sometimes things don’t work out at their clubs and they have to start again lower down.”
One marquee Irish youngster King is glad to have back in the set-up is Derby County powerhouse Jeff Hendrick. “Martin O’Neill was very aware we need a win to keep in the qualification chase, so he let us have Jeff.”
Level on points with their visitors, Ireland must defeat Montenegro at Tallaght (3pm) and record their biggest feat in history – a win away to Germany in their last game in September — to finish runner-up and clinch a play-off spot at next year’s Euro finals.
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