FulhamFC Kavanagh has made a big impression in London during his debut season.
# One to Watch
Could Fulham starlet Sean Kavanagh be the answer to Ireland's left-back problems?
The 21-year-old from Dublin is described as one of the club’s ‘brightest young prospects.’

WHEN IT COMES to Martin O’Neill’s Ireland squad announcements, there is an element of predictability about which names appear on his panel so the inclusion of Bournemouth’s Harry Arter for this month’s qualifier against Poland caught many by surprise.

The 25-year-old midfielder has been rewarded for a stellar season with a first senior call-up as he continues to spearhead The Cherries’ promotion bid but he’s just one of several exciting young Irish players making a name for themselves in the Championship.

While there has been a noticeable, and worrying, decline in the form of the few remaining Irish players plying their trade in the Premier League, the batch of promising footballers playing in the second-tier has prompted O’Neill and Roy Keane to follow the progress of those with green roots in the Football League.

Fulham’s Sean Kavanagh isn’t on the senior international radar just yet but he’s enjoyed a meteoric rise at Craven Cottage, appearing 12 times for the London club during his debut season at first team level.

Having progressed through the club’s academy, Kavanagh’s stock continues to rise as he flourishes on the left side of Fulham’s midfield and last month celebrated his 21st birthday by signing a new long-term contract.

“At this stage of my career, I wouldn’t want to be at any other club,” The Dubliner told The42. “It’s a very good place to be at if you want to play games as the manager gives you a chance to shine and I don’t think any other clubs are playing as many youngsters as Fulham are right now.”

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Fulham Open Training Session - Craven Cottage EMPICS Sport Kavanagh has been described as one of the club's 'brightest prospects' EMPICS Sport

Described as a ‘technically assured player with a deadly left-foot’ by the club’s website, Kavanagh first impressed Fulham scouts at the acclaimed schoolboy tournament, The Milk Cup, four years ago.

He’s since developed through the ranks, starting off at U18 level under the tutelage of now first team manager Kit Symons, and made his senior debut last August against Wolves having featured heavily for the reserves last term.

Four games into his first team career, Kavanagh announced himself to the Cottage faithful with the winning goal against Wes Hoolahan’s Norwich. ”It was a day I’ll always remember,” he recalls. ”My mum was over as well and it was a dream to play let alone score the winner in such a big game.”

While Kavanagh’s confidence and stature rises with each passing week, his emergence has been one of few highlights for Fulham during an otherwise difficult season for the club after relegation from the top-flight.

Fulham Football Club / YouTube

Currently lying just outside the red zone, The Cottagers have struggled from the outset after a slow start under Felix Magath. Symons’ young side face a defining couple of weeks as the club look to avoid back-to-back relegations.

“I’ve no doubt we’ll avoid trouble with the squad we have. There is a great mix of youth and experience and we shouldn’t be where we are. The team is confident of turning things around in the next few weeks.”

While Kavanagh faces the hardships of a relegation dogfight in his first season at senior level, he could have been at the other end of the table pushing for promotion if he had taken a different route.

The Belvedere schoolboy turned down an offer from Middlesbrough, one he describes as ‘the better deal’, instead opting for a move to Fulham who had Damien Duff and Stephen Kelly on the books at the time.

“It was tough at the start,” he says of the early days in London. “Moving away from family and friends was difficult but I would go home every so often at weekends and that kept me going.”

As a versatile operator, Kavanagh has been deployed at both left-back and slightly further forward this season and was last week included in Noel King’s U21 squad for the upcoming fixture against Andorra.

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round - Fulham v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Craven Cottage EMPICS Sport The Dubliner is highly-rated by manager Kit Symons having worked with him from youth level EMPICS Sport

Should he feature in Waterford later this month, it would be Kavanagh’s second appearance for Ireland at that level after tasting international football for the first time last October.

“It’s obviously nice to play for your country and I always used to go and watch the U21s when I was younger so it’s a big thing for me to play for Ireland. It will hopefully be a stepping stone and help me get more experience.”

The left-back berth has been a problem area for O’Neill, and his predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, during their respective tenures with no candidate able to impress sufficiently to make the role their own.

Stephen Ward has returned from the wilderness under the current regime but Kavanagh knows if he can knock on the door hard enough, there is an opening there for a left-sided player.

“It’s a big ambition to wear a green jersey and hopefully I can push-on and do that in the future. It’s obviously still a while away yet and it would be difficult to break into the Irish midfield with the quality players there are,” he continues.

“But there aren’t many left-backs so if they were looking for one I’d be delighted to step-up.”

“Harry’s inclusion just goes to show if you’re doing well then the manager might put you in regardless of who you’re playing for.”

Arter’s call-up is further proof a player can catch the eye in the lower leagues. He is one of 16 players in Ireland’s provisional squad for the crunch Euro Qualifier against Poland playing for a Championship outfit.

And with Sean Kavanagh going from strength to strength, we could yet see another Championship starlet in the Irish ranks before long.

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