Josh Cullen (right) embraces Stephen Kenny. James Crombie/INPHO
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'We need to not settle for playing well and coming up short. We need to turn it into going places'

Josh Cullen had a year to savour but he is already turning attention to making 2023 far more successful for Ireland.

JOSH CULLEN IS not the type to get drawn into a war of words for the sake of it.

Especially when he is simply an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire because of circumstance.

Yet he was drawn into the ongoing ill-feeling between former senior Ireland manager Martin O’Neill and current assistant boss Keith Andrews.

After being confirmed as the FAI’s men’s player of the year, Cullen joined a list of illustrious names on the roll of honour. The last player in his position to do so was Andrews, in 2012, while you have to go back more than a decade further for another central midfielder to get the award.

That, of course, was Roy Keane in 2001.

As part of the media tour promoting his autobiography, O’Neill re-opened some old wounds with Andrews, while also bigging up the credentials of his own former right-hand man.

“Stephen’s lieutenant finds himself in a hotter seat in the dugout than the one he occupied in a TV studio when he was an excoriating critic of mine,” he wrote in the pages of ‘On Days Like These’.

“He is finding out that winning football matches is more difficult to execute on the field of play than fidgeting about with a remote-control button.”

roy-keane-1222002-digital Roy Keane with his FAI men's player of the year award for 2001. INPHO INPHO

In an interview with The Guardian, O’Neill added further fuel to the fire when discussing the former Ireland international’s criticism of his reign towards the end.

“If Roy Keane was doing punditry work and said I’d made a mess of something, I might disagree but I would accept it from someone who has played at that level, has managed himself and knows the pressures you are under.

“I have a level of earned respect for that opinion but not a lower-leaguer who wouldn’t know what it is like to win a medal.”

Well, he was Ireland’s best player for a time, so that must count for something?

Given Cullen is only the third centre midfielder in the last 21 years to take the honour, and has done so under the guidance of Andrews, it felt pertinent to look for insight into the working relationship.

“I can only speak about the dealings I have had with Keith personally and he has been fantastic around the place. He’s a top coach, still probably at the early stages of his career but the details he gives us at training and meetings is brilliant,” the Burnley man said.

“I think he’s been a massive part of the progress the team has made over the last couple of years and I’m sure he’ll have a big future as a coach as well.

“Keith has been brilliant for me, over the last couple of years, like I touched on with the manager, showing trust in me, to be a big part of the team and Keith has also backed the manager up in the same way and helped me to develop my game.

“To follow in the footsteps and win the award like Keith did is brilliant and a big thanks as well to him for all he has done in the last couple of years as well.”

stephen-kenny-celebrates-after-the-game-with-keith-andrews Keith Andrews (left) with Stephen Kenny. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Cullen has become a crucial figure in the starting XI for Ireland, but it took boss Stephen Kenny time to include him in early squads, only bringing him in for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final with Slovakia after Harry Arter withdrew from injury.

“You have to earn everything in your career. Nobody has a divine right to be in the senior squad for your country. It’s something you have to work hard for,” Cullen reflected.

“The manager has shown great trust and belief in me over the last couple of years and it has been a really enjoyable period for me and my career plan under him.

“As you grow your experience of playing in big games and being a more familiar face, I suppose in every squad then naturally a bit more responsibility comes and a bit more of a role as a leader, and that’s something I enjoy. It’s something I’m willing to take on and lead in any way I can,” he continued.

These friendlies bring the curtain down on a year of personal achievement for Cullen, but one which saw Ireland fall short of Ukraine and Scotland in their bid to earn promotion from League B of the Nations League.

josh-cullen Josh Cullen was speaking yesterday. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“I think the overall trend has been improvement of the squad and the team and I think we can see that. We know that we’re by no means the finished article and there’s still a lot to improve on as well, but I think we can take a lot of positives out of the last year and see improvements that we’ve made,” he reasoned.

“We need to not settle for, I suppose, playing well and coming up short. We need to now turn that into going to places, playing well and winning games.

“We’ve probably been a little bit disappointed with not coming away with results we feel like we’ve deserved, so now it’s time to just make sure that when we do play well, we win games, it’s as simple as that.”

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