The Irish teen aiming to be the next Wes Hoolahan

Brandon Kavanagh is currently part of the Boys in Green’s squad for the U19 Euros.

Brandon Kavanagh (file pic).
Brandon Kavanagh (file pic).
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

DURING IRELAND’S EURO U19 opening fixture against Norway, there was a technically accomplished young midfielder helping Ireland to pull the strings in midfield during various passages of play.

It’s no surprise to hear, then, that Wes Hoolahan is one of the players Brandon Kavanagh models his game off.

The youngster has a similar style and physique to Hoolahan, with both players preferring to play in the pockets and constantly demanding the ball off others, though he admits he remains a long way off emulating the former Ireland international’s achievements in the game.

“I’ve met him a couple of times,” Kavanagh tells The42. “He’s a top bloke and he’s helped me a lot. He came to the pre-season at Rovers, I’ve trained with him a couple of times and he’s outstanding. Just how he is, especially to base your game off as well. I think both of us are similar in parts and if I can ever reach half the level he did, it’d be amazing.”

Of his own game, he adds: “If I’m not on the ball, I’m not doing enough for the team.”

At 18, Kavanagh is one of the older member of the squad that’s travelled out to Armenia.

It’s been well documented that a number of those who helped the Boys in Green qualify for the tournament are unavailable due to their clubs wanting them around for pre-season training. Consequently, the midfielder is one of the players relatively unfamiliar with the squad. He didn’t feature in any of the U19s’ qualification games and was instead called up to Stephen Kenny’s U21 team last March, coming on as a late sub in the opening qualification win over Luxembourg having scored the only goal in the former Dundalk manager’s first match in charge amid a win over Ireland Amateurs.

So the fact that — according to Tom Mohan — 11 players are unavailable for this tournament means a new group must rise to the challenge of competing at this week’s event.

And following a slow start against Norway in which they went a goal down, the Irish side improved as the game developed and the players began to form more of an understanding with one another.

“As we got into the game, I thought we did a lot better,” Kavanagh says.

“Not many of us had played together before, so it was just knowing each other’s roles.

We sat off a little bit and knew we had to put a bit more pressure on them.

“I think it took us maybe 20 minutes to [get to grips with] the way the manager wanted us to play. Once you got the hang of it, you could see we created chances and maybe we should have got a better result. But we’re happy with the draw. It’s a hard-fought draw.”

Having trailed for much of the game, Ireland eventually equalised in the 81st minute through a stunning strike from one of the youngest players on the pitch — 16-year-old Man City starlet Joe Hodge, who was making his Ireland U19s debut having impressed at the Euro U17s earlie this summer.

“It just looked like it wasn’t going to go our way, but luckily one fell for us and what a strike that was from Joe,” adds Kavanagh.

“He’s a quiet fella. He sticks to himself. He’s a very good lad. I just had a word with him before about talking a bit, because with the older lads, you might sit off and not say much, but he was outstanding last night, as were all the boys. Especially in the second half, we just worked together.” 

For Kavanagh — who has made 12 appearances for Shamrock Rovers this season and has been in and around the first team since joining from Bohemians last season — representing his country at underage level is something he is hugely proud of achieving, having grown up steeped in football.

“We would have been a big footballing family. My dad’s a Liverpool supporter, we’re big supporters. Even if you look around the house, all it is is football, looking back on games, Champions League finals, Rovers games, real good games and highlights of football. It’s just full of football.

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“[My younger brother is] playing with Lourdes Celtic at the moment, he’s doing really well, but he’s very young. All he has to do is enjoy his football, because you play your best football when you enjoy it.”

Kavanagh himself had an enjoyable schoolboy career, lining out with Crumlin United, St Francis and St Joseph’s Boys at various points, with Ireland team-mates Jonathan Afolabi and Andy Lyons playing for the latter at the same time as him.

You look back on your earliest years of schoolboy. You look back on All-Ireland finals, all the travelling you do builds you up to play in these games, that confidence you have that you know where you came from. You’re doing hours of travelling to be here today really, and there’s no better place to be — that’s why we’re grabbing it with both hands.”

Kavanagh also had spells at Bray and Bohemians at underage level, before joining the Hoops.

“I’ve done the Leaving Cert. I went into an apprenticeship with Bohs U19s. Luckily enough, I was able to leave it when I went to Rovers. I got my first-team contract there and I’m just loving it at the minute.”

And the teenage midfielder’s message for other young players is clear.

“There’s always people out there that’ll doubt you. You have to prove them wrong. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. It’s great to have a family like I have, they’re backing me up every step I make, they’re always there for me. So really, back yourself and things will go your way.”

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Paul Fennessy

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