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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 17 December, 2018

'I grew up watching Robbie Keane in the World Cup so playing for Ireland is the ultimate goal'

Blackburn Rovers midfielder Darragh Lenihan will be hoping to impress further when they take on West Ham in the FA Cup fifth round today.

Lenihan has enjoyed a run of games in the Rovers team under Paul Lambert.
Lenihan has enjoyed a run of games in the Rovers team under Paul Lambert.
Image: EMPICS Sport

DARRAGH LENIHAN MAY have been in the wars this past week, but there is no chance the Meath man is going to let that keep him out of this afternoons’s FA Cup fifth round tie against Premier League opposition.

The Blackburn Rovers midfielder needed 20 stitches after a boot to the head from Fulham’s Jamie O’Hara left him with a nasty gash during a 3-0 win on Tuesday night.

West Ham visit Ewood Park later today (2pm) and although the 21-year-old revealed that he may have to wear protective headgear, he has been given the okay by the club’s doctor.

“It’s only a scrape,” Lenihan told The42 this week. “His stud just caught me. I had a clash of heads a few months ago and that was worse to be honest.

“I’ll be grand. The physio said I’ll be alright but I might have to wear one of those caps like Petr Cech wears!”

That incident aside, former Belvedere schoolboy Lenihan has enjoyed the best spell of his career in 2016.

Having featured just once this season for the Championship club before Christmas, he has racked up nine appearances between the league and the FA Cup since the turn of the year.

The upturn in fortunes has coincided with a change of manager. He was used sparingly under previous boss Gary Bowyer but, after arriving in November, Paul Lambert has put his faith in the youngster.

“When you compare it to the older gaffer, I never really got a look-in and he never really considered me a midfielder as I was more of a centre-half,” said Lenihan.

“Since the new gaffer has come in he’s given me a chance and I’ve done well in the past few games, especially against Fulham and Middlesbrough.

It’s a great opportunity so hopefully I can keep improving my game and keep getting better.

“He has played at the highest level as a midfielder so I feel like I can learn a great deal from him.”

The ex-Norwich and Aston Villa manager, who praised Lenihan for his performances last month, has brought a high-pressing game to the club as he aims to take Rovers out of the bottom half of England’s second tier.

The improvements have been gradual but there were signs of progress in the recent 1-1 draw against second-placed Middlesbrough and Tuesday’s victory against the Cottagers.

Blackburn Rovers v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Ewood Park Lenihan tackles Hull City's Andrew Robertson. Source: Clint Hughes

Still learning his trade after a successful loan spell at Burton Albion last season, Lenihan has been lining out in a midfield diamond but his versatility means he is also comfortable at centre-half and full-back.

“I can play a number of positions,” he says. “At the moment, we have been playing a bit of a diamond and I’ve been on the right-hand side of it. Funnily enough, we played that exact formation for my old team Belvedere.

I can play centre-half but my main position would be centre midfield and that would be my first choice but wherever I can do a job I’ll be happy to do it.”

If he does get the nod today, he will be up against experienced opponents but sees no reason why Rovers can’t upset the odds against the Hammers.

“They’ll probably have the likes of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Alex Song in so they’ve got some top midfielders,” he says.

“We’ll have to be on it to give them a game but you never know it’s the FA Cup so anything can happen. Last year, Bradford City beat Chelsea so you never know.”

Darragh Lenihan leads out his team Lenihan leading the Ireland U21s team out in a recent Uefa Euro 2017 qualifier. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

At international level, the heart of the defence is where Ireland U21 boss Noel King generally requires his services.

A regular for the Boys in Green, Lenihan has captained the team during the current Euro 2017 qualifying campaign and says it has been an honour to do so — even if the recent 3-1 defeat to Lithuania was hard to take.

“It’s a great experience to play for your country but to captain the team is like the icing on the cake,” he says.

“The game against Lithuania was the biggest disappointment. I don’t know what it was, but not enough lads were at it on the day and they punished us.

“We know ourselves we should have been better and we’re looking to get a response in these next two games (against Italy and Slovenia).

“If we don’t get them then we can near enough say the campaign is near enough over so we’ll be going into them looking to win.”

In Shane Duffy, he’s got a clubmate who has been in and around the Ireland senior set-up. They pair have talked about what it’s like to be involved in squads and Lenihan has no doubt in his mind that it’s where he wants to be.

“He’s two years above me and he has that bit more experience,” he says of Duffy.

“For his age he’s a very experienced player. I’d ask him what it’s like being around the set-up with the likes of Robbie Keane. I grew up watching him in the 2002 World Cup.

“I’ve played most of the age groups with the Irish team so I like to think that I will get a chance someday.

“That’s the ultimate goal — to play for the senior team and represent my country. Finger’s crossed I’ll be able to put on that green jersey some day.”

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Ben Blake

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