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Ireland underage international feels Scottish loan has been a major help
James Furlong has been part of a Motherwell team suffering their worst and best runs of form this season.

JAMES FURLONG could not have anticipated the highs and lows of his first two months of sustained first-team experience but the 20-year-old feels his Motherwell loan experience has been a major help in his development.

The Brighton player has been part of a team suffering their worst and best runs of form this season, played in two different systems under two different managers, and won his first call-up for Ireland U21s.

The left-back had played one game each for Shamrock Rovers and Brighton before joining Motherwell in late January and was immediately thrust into action.

The man who signed him, Steven Hammell, lost his job after a Scottish Cup shock against Raith Rovers but a Motherwell side strengthened by an influx of January signings have thrived under Stuart Kettlewell.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s cinch Premiership clash with Hibernian at Easter Road, Furlong said: “It’s been huge for me. Coming in and then a week later there was a change of manager. Getting that experience of coming into things and things changing again.

“It was a little bit hard but in football, there are always changes and you just have to get on with it and focus on yourself and the team. If the team is together, there are no issues if there are changes.

“There are highs and lows throughout everyone’s career and every team’s career, so it’s just about managing them when each one comes.

“That’s what we have done, we have managed through the hard part and now it’s just about trying to maintain our standards.

“Each game presents a different challenge, whether it’s a team lower down or a team higher up, it’s really good exposure for me.

“I think I have settled in really well and I am enjoying it and hopefully, that will continue.

“When I came in we were sort of struggling and then we brought in a couple of players and found a formation that has really suited us.

“It started to show on the pitch and hopefully we can continue that and finish the season strongly.

“It was important for me to get a taste of men’s football and hopefully I can keep playing.”

Furlong did not feature for his international side in their friendly against Iceland but was delighted to get recognition after featuring at younger age groups.

“I wanted to be in that for a while so to get that call-up was really good and I enjoyed the last week,” he said.

“Hopefully I get more call-ups in the future. I love playing for Ireland and the club as well so to be able to play for Ireland and for people to recognise that progression is really good to see.”

Meanwhile, former Ireland U21 international Jake Doyle-Hayes insists he has no intention of leaving Hibernian any time soon despite his future at the club being placed in doubt in January.

The Hibees accepted an offer from Forest Green Rovers for the Irish midfielder in the last transfer window, although manager Lee Johnson said at the time he would be happy to retain the 24-year-old as part of his squad if he decided to remain at Easter Road.

Doyle-Hayes, who recently returned after a long-term ankle injury, declined the chance to move south, and as he addressed his mooted departure for the first time ahead of Saturday’s cinch Premiership match at home to Motherwell, he said he felt “settled” in Edinburgh.

“For me, no,” said Doyle-Hayes, when asked if the Forest Green move was close to coming off. “I didn’t want to leave here.

“I’m settled here. I know I wasn’t playing much football but I wanted to get fit, get back in the team, and fight for my place. I’ve got a young family who are settled here. We love the city and I love playing for the club so I was really happy to stay.

“I’m not looking to leave and go anywhere else. I’m happy here.”

Doyle-Hayes has endured a frustrating campaign so far, with an ankle problem — which required surgery in the autumn — keeping him sidelined for most of it.

The Hibees’ last match, a 3-1 defeat away to Celtic a fortnight ago, saw the former St Mirren player start for the first time since August and he is desperate to re-establish himself in the centre of Johnson’s midfield.

“It’s been tough not playing,” said Doyle-Hayes. “I haven’t had many seasons like this where I’ve not been playing because of a long-term injury but it’s just part of football. I’ve seen other players have long-term injuries. I’m just happy to be back.

“I played against Celtic and hopefully I can keep my place and keep building from there. I was hoping to get back in as soon as possible after the injury, so to get put back in a big game like that was a big confidence booster.

“I just want to keep the shirt and play as much as I can for the rest of the season, and hopefully help the team get a European place.”

Hibs are currently fifth in the cinch Premiership, a point below Aberdeen and five adrift of city rivals Hearts, while Livingston and St Mirren are both lurking behind within two points.

Johnson’s side host Motherwell on Saturday as they bid to boost their European hopes.

“All the games are massive now for the rest of the season,” said Doyle-Hayes. “It’s so tight where we are so every point really matters.”

Press Association
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