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Ireland's most-talked-about hot prospect delivers on the big stage

Troy Parrott came off the bench to rescue the Boys in Green and prevent a familiar failure.

Ireland’s Troy Parrott celebrates scoring the winning goal.
Ireland’s Troy Parrott celebrates scoring the winning goal.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IT WAS a night that often resembled the more forgettable moments of Ireland’s past.

A poor result against a so-called weaker nation would have been nothing new.

Jack Charlton (Liechtenstein) experienced it, as did Mick McCarthy (Macedonia), Martin O’Neill (Georgia) and others.

For Stephen Kenny, it looked like being yet another international window in which a promising performance against a top side (Belgium) was followed by an awful outcome against a lower-ranked outfit, as had already happened in two windows during the World Cup qualifiers (Serbia-Luxembourg, Portugal-Azerbaijan).

And while Ireland began the evening with a degree of patience to their play, they grew increasingly frantic as the game wore on with their composure deserting them at key moments in the final third.

Although the Lithuania performance was disappointing in light of the standards set in recent matches, there was also an element of bad luck at play.

Ireland had the ball in the net four times, even if each of these efforts were (correctly) ruled out for offside.

The stats, too, tell a story — 79% possession, 18 shots versus five, six on target versus zero.

Lithuania, it should be noted, are currently ranked 137th in the world — Ireland, by contrast, are 49th.

The visitors, who finished bottom of their World Cup qualifying group after losing seven of their eight matches, will have been devastated at just missing out on a rare positive result.

While they may have quibbled with the fact that the goal was scored in the 97th of 95 allotted minutes, it would be hard to argue that Ireland did not deserve the victory on the balance of play.

Stephen Kenny has been rightly hailed for bringing greater sophistication to Ireland’s approach, but there was a touch of the past about the decisive goal.

A hopeful ball was desperately launched into the area with seconds to go, it was only half-cleared and Parrott was on hand to produce the Alan-McLoughlin-esque finish from the edge of the area.

Casual fans would be forgiven for forgetting that Parrott only turned 20 last month.

For a long time, it feels as if the player has been seen as synonymous with the future of Irish football.

Yet as has happened to so many before him, there is a danger that the Dubliner gets prematurely consigned to the past.

“When I was in and out of the team I just realised that ultimately you get one shot at this football game,” he told reporters earlier this month.

And during the most recent Ireland squad announcement, much of the talk revolved around two absent strikers in Aaron Connolly and Michael Obafemi.

It was as if Parrott was already being seen as yesterday’s news or taken for granted to a degree.

Yet while the hype levels may have abated, the Irish youngster has quietly been enjoying his best season to date.

Having appeared very occasionally in Tottenham’s first team, he had two loan spells last year, at Millwall and Ipswich, where he demonstrated glimpses of his talent without setting the world alight.

Nonetheless, he ended the campaign on a high, scoring twice against Andorra in three minutes, as Ireland avoided another embarrassment having gone behind in the second half against the minnows.

“There was a lot of speculation that he hadn’t merited or done enough to be in the squad because he’s not had the season he would have liked to have, although he did have a lot of football throughout the season playing in different positions,” Kenny told a press conference at the time.

“I am hoping that will really remind him of his talent and remind him he is a quality player and he is capable of scoring goals and it’s something where we have to maximise his talent,” the Irish boss later added.

There was optimism that Parrott would kick on from this star showing, but football is rarely so straightforward.

He has started just twice at international level since the Andorra breakthrough — the 0-0 friendly stalemate with Hungary and the 1-1 draw against Azerbaijan, underwhelming games that saw him substituted after 55 and 62 minutes respectively and in which he struggled to have a significant influence.

For the most part, he has been reduced to limited minutes since and last night was no exception, as the Tottenham starlet was given just over half an hour to make an impression.

Yet Parrott was Ireland’s best player during that period — he always looked the most likely to make a breakthrough and did more than many of the attackers who had been granted greater playing time in which to excel.

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There are bound to be more bumps along the road of course, and Parrott may well remain a fringe player with Ireland for the time being, as fellow attackers like Chiedozie Ogbene, Jason Knight and Callum Robinson have been frequently excelling in the green jersey.

Yet as regards club level at least, the player’s career appears to be on an upward trajectory after a couple of unfortunate hiccups.

Whereas it might not have always been the case in the past, he now appears to have a manager who has afforded him the necessary levels of trust and patience in Liam Manning.

Manning recently hailed the youngster’s maturity, recovering from the disappointment of temporarily losing his spot in the team earlier this season. His commendable response to this setback suggests Parrott possesses the grit needed to complement his obvious talent.

His club MK Dons are currently the most in-form side in England, having gone 12 games unbeaten.

Parrott has started every one of those fixtures, invariably playing in one of the wide positions of an attacking three and recently hitting an eye-catching brace in their 3-1 win over Cheltenham.

Irish U21 skipper and teammate of Parrott, Conor Coventry, hailed Manning’s influence in an interview earlier this week, explaining: “We’ve got a young team that wants to learn and to play a certain way and is really brave in doing so.

“We’ve got a manager who backs us to do that and gives us the licence to be brave and play how we are.”

These quotes could just as easily apply to Stephen Kenny and the Irish senior team.

Furthermore, Parrott, Coventry and another Irishman, ex-Bohs player Warren O’Hora, are not the only youngsters thriving at the League One promotion-chasers — per inews.co.uk, one fixture this season saw Manning field a team with an average age of just 22.6.

And last night, Parrott brought this increased sense of confidence and experience onto the international stage, thereby reminding critics that he very much remains a big part of Ireland’s future.

Originally published at 07.30

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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