Ryan Byrne/INPHO Darragh Lenihan.
# strength in depth
Lenihan: Tough competition for places at centre-back is not dispiriting
The Middlesbrough centre-back is not fazed by the options available to Stephen Kenny at centre-back.

THERE HAVE BEEN more propitious times to emerge as a talented Irish centre-back: Stephen Kenny has added a third to his team but still it’s Ireland’s best-stocked position. 

If everyone is fit, Kenny has the happy headache of picking three from Nathan Collins, Seamus Coleman, John Egan, Andrew Omobamidele, Dara O’Shea, Shane Duffy, Darragh Lenihan, and Jimmy Dunne. 

Twenty-eight-year-old Lenihan has been a consistent performer at Championship level for years – captaining Blackburn before joining Middlesbrough ahead of this season – but had to wait until June this year for his full competitive debut with Ireland. 

He says such competition for places does not dispirit him. 

“No, not really because you have to think of the whole rather than just yourself”, said Lenihan at a press conference at the Aviva Stadium, following an open training session in front of 3000 fans. “And that is important. We’re all in this together. You guys all want what’s best for the country and so do I. Whether that’s putting out your best players and if I’m in it or not in it, I don’t really mind as long as the team win. That’s the main thing.” 

The team didn’t win on the occasion of his full debut – drawing 1-1 in Poland against Ukraine in a thrilling Nations League tie – but Lenihan says he will always look back on it with fond memories. He also got a front-row seat for Nathan Collins stunning goal. 

“I hope!”, laughed Lenihan when asked if he has a similar goal in his locker. “For his age he is very mature and he has a big future, definitely. Getting his move to Wolves, he thoroughly deserves that and I think he will only get better. You would imagine he will get a good few caps for his country. When I saw the goal, fair play to him. He’s a talented lad and he has a big future ahead of him.” 

Lenihan’s Middlesbrough were tipped for promotion at the start of the season but endured a wretched start, which cost Chris Wilder his job. He left them 22nd in the table, with just two wins from 11 games. Michael Carrick has replaced him and inspired an instant improvement: ‘Boro have won three of their last four games and are 14th as the season pauses for the World Cup. 

“He has made a very big impression”, Lenihan says of his new boss. “It was a tough start and we expected to be higher in the table at the start but it wasn’t meant to be. But how we responded in the last couple of weeks, the manager has been excellent. Simple messages but very effective. Hopefully we can improve and then after this break hopefully kick on.

“His experience as a player: I think he has won five Premier Leagues and a Champions League. He has brought in Jonathan Woodgate as well who has played for Middlesbrough and knows the club inside out and also played for Real Madrid, so that experience alone gives us that confidence to push on. He gives simple messages but very effective in what we want to do. I think he has brought the group together since he has come in.

“The lads have taken on the messages that he wants to put across. Training sessions have been very detailed on what he wants. He has brought everyone together and we want to keep pushing on and keep moving forward.” 

Ireland face Norway in a friendly game in Dublin on Thursday, before then rounding out 2022 away to Malta, a game that kicks off hours after the World Cup begins in Qatar. Thursday’s game has been robbed of its headline act with Erling Haaland not part of the Norway squad, being kept instead for Sunday’s home game with Finland. 

“You want to challenge yourself and that’s why you play”, replied Lenihan when asked if Haaland’s absence is good news or bad. “He has been excellent for City this year and probably up there with one of the best players in the world, if not the best.” 

Ireland trained together at the Aviva today, and will revert to their base at Abbottstown tomorrow. Josh Cullen sat out training as he was the only member of the squad to play a club game yesterday. Scott Hogan and Will Keane have withdrawn from the squad through injury, with Mark Sykes called up. 

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