THE NEWS MAY have passed many by, but just last week one of Ireland’s most promising young footballers made his first steps into the Champions League.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini, joined by goalkeeping coach Xabier Mancisidor, sat Dubliner Ian Lawlor down to inform him that he would be travelling to the Czech Republic with the senior squad for their meeting with Viktoria Plzeň.
It would be as back-up to first choice Joe Hart and reserve keeper Costel Pantilimon but marked significant progress in the 18-year-old’s career at a club he joined in 2010 nonetheless.
It was an absolute honour,” Lawlor told The Score. “Just to be with the first team and see how they travel and prepare for matchdays was amazing. It’s a totally different experience and I learned so much being in the dressing room.”
A native of Harmonstown on Dublin’s Northside, Lawlor was born into a football-mad family and began training with St Malachy’s from the age of five despite being a couple of years too young to play competitively.
When my dad was going out to play football I’d go along with him. It was he who inspired me to get into the game.
“He could have went to England as well but he didn’t have the support from his parents that he gave to me. I’m lucky that he pushed me to where I am now as he was a massive influence.
“Me and him would go out three or four times a week to train so I’ve a lot to thank him for.”
By U11s, the young stopper had made the switch to schoolboy heavyweights Home Farm with the aim of getting spotted by the scouts who regularly attended their DDSL games.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long until the offers came flooding in. Although there were several options on the table, Lawlor explains why City were the perfect fit for him.
“When I made the decision, we received a lot of last minute offers but I knew in my heart that I wanted to move to Manchester City.
“The way they treated me, the staff, the academy and the wealth of experience they have was all phenomenal. It also felt like home which was important. There was no point in going to a club if I felt uncomfortable.
“Looking at it today, I still think it was the right decision.”
Lawlor lining out for City in the FA Youth Cup in 2011. Credit: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport
Life in England didn’t start as planned and a dislocated shoulder picked up against Coventry in the first game of the season meant he would sit out the majority of his debut campaign. He recalls it being a tough time, but believes he has become a stronger character because of the set-back.
This year, Lawlor has performed excellently and is currently winning the battle against rival Angus Gunn for the No1 jersey in Patrick Vieira’s U21s side.
“It’s an honour to play under Patrick,” he says. “He’s been fantastic since taking over the role this season and we’re taking on board what he says and starting to gel.
There is massive competition at any club but especially here there are two or three top players in every position. You need that and it’s only going to make you a better player.
“There is good competition between us (him and Gunn) but we’re very good mates and we know we’re there to do a job so whoever gets picked will give it their all and hopefully get the results we want.”
On Monday night, however, he was picking the ball out of the net when Liverpool striker Adam Morgan scored a wondergoal from 45 yards in the Reds’ 2-0 win at Hyde.
“I’ve been getting a lot stick over it but that’s part and parcel of the game and you’ve just got to take it on the chin. It was a great goal, you’ve got to give it to him. We didn’t play so bad but are just disappointed with the result.”
During his early days at City, Lawlor was lucky enough to strike up a relationship with a hero of his. Shay Given spent two years at the club before departing for Aston Villa and went out of his way to give support to his fellow Irish goalie.
“I got to know Shay quite well. He’ll still pop in and and see how things are. Before he left, it was a privilege to work with him in pre-season. He has been so helpful and I’ve taken all the advice he has given on board.
“He was the goalkeeper that I looked up to and still is. I used to go to Lansdowne Road in the lashings of rain and watch him. So to meet up and train with him was amazing.”
Lawlor meeting Shay Given as a child. Credit: YouTube
On the international stage, Lawlor has worked hard to get himself into the plans of Paul Doolin and started all the European U19s Championships qualifiers earlier this year.
Looking towards the future, Lawlor short-term plan is to put the head down and continue improving for club and country. He has got two years left on his current contract and, although his dream would be to become first choice at the City, the youngster knows he may have to move elsewhere to further his career.
Realistically I don’t think that will be possible (to become No1 at City) for a number of years. Hopefully I can get a loan move somewhere to further my education and just keep pushing on.
“The only way to get to the top will be to drop down and get experience elsewhere and work your way back up again.”