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'When things weren’t working out for him at Liverpool, he showed his real character'

Conor Masterson is set to captain Ireland U21s when they meet Iceland on Sunday.

Conor Masterson has been a regular at centre-back during this campaign.
Conor Masterson has been a regular at centre-back during this campaign.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

CONOR MASTERSON DOES not have fond memories of playing Iceland.

As Ireland U21s prepare to meet their group rivals at Tallaght Stadium on Sunday (kick-off: 12.30pm, live on eir Sport), Masterson recalled the reverse fixture between the sides in Reykjavík — a frustrating 1-0 loss for the visitors.

“The first thing I remember, I broke my nose, so it wasn’t the best thing. It was a difficult night, I remember,” the 22-year-old Celbridge native says.

“They’re a physical team and they got their goal [early] and then they just sat off us and we couldn’t break them down.

“We know our game-plan and we’re going to stick to our game-plan tomorrow, and hopefully we do the job on them.”

And so is there a feeling that the Irish side owe their opponents one, after the unfortunate loss suffered last year?

“100%. They caught us off-guard, but the first 10 minutes the way the game went — they slowed the game down, we got a man sent off — it was a bit of a hectic game.

“They tried to use every advantage they had, so I think it’s our turn to use our advantages.”

Of the last encounter, Masterson adds: “First thing I remember is the first two minutes of the game — I went up to head it and [Sveinn Aron Gudjohnsen] elbowed me. And I wasn’t happy after that. I was going around with me nose in bits, and I was bleeding everywhere.

They got a penalty that was never a penalty, the ball hit Lee O’Connor’s back. We were raging about that. Then they just sat off. We played on astro and no one was happy about that. It’s not the same as playing on grass. It was a horrible, windy, day. Lee got sent off as well. They slowed everything down, and sat behind the ball. Once they scored, that was it.”

With both teams needing a win, it could be a far more open game this time around, with Masterson hoping for a different outcome.

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“If we don’t concede early on, that’ll be perfect for us. They’ll have to come out and it’ll open the gaps for our top players up front to hopefully get the goals.”

On Wednesday, away to Luxembourg, Ireland will end a campaign that they started all the way back in March 2019, with the coronavirus chaos ensuring plenty of disruption to the fixture schedule.

Masterson says playing for the U21s has had a positive impact on his club career. At the beginning of the campaign, he had been rendered surplus to requirements at Liverpool and was facing an uncertain future. Now, he is at QPR and has made a number of first-team appearances for the Championship club.

“When I went away to Toulon [for a summer tournament] with Ireland, it felt like a weight off my shoulders. It was a new start. I did reasonably well in Toulon. QPR came in [after], wanted to pick me up. I was buzzing. It was like a new chapter, a new start for me. I needed senior football at the time. The experience I’ve had from then to now has been unbelievable. We’re all on a journey. Everyone’s journey is different. I’m really enjoying mine at the moment.

“I love London, the location and stuff. It was a really good opportunity for me.” 

Another plus of being involved with the 21s has been the opportunity to learn from Ireland legend John O’Shea, who is part of the coaching staff.

“What he achieved was unbelievable. Him coming in was a boost, for the whole squad as well. Personally, he’s been given me tips on positions and how to communicate to players — as a leader of the squad, how I lead and how I show myself. He was a captain for Ireland too.”

And one of Masterson’s biggest admirers is Ireland U21 boss Jim Crawford, who praised the team captain for the character he has shown in recent months.

“Conor is first and foremost a fantastic footballer. He is someone I had the pleasure of being with at Emerging Talent level. 

He’s great around the group, he’s a proper captain. He’s vocal, he gets on with the group, he’s a good buffer between myself and the group and is someone I’d lean on a bit because myself and himself have a history as well through the Emerging Talent.

“He’s a great fella, he’s a winner and a great measure of him is when things weren’t working out for him at Liverpool, he showed his real character. A lot of players after Liverpool would be disappointed, deflated. But he kept at it, worked exceptionally hard at his game, came away with the U21s, had an unbelievable Toulon Tournament and made that move to QPR, where he has excelled. And he’s played quite a few first-team games and I think he’ll get a hell of a lot more before the end of the season.” 

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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