Ireland’s Sinclair Armstrong takes to the field to make his senior international debut. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

'If you told me in January I'd be making my Ireland debut, I'd have said you were on substances'

On Sunday, Sinclair Armstrong became the 20th player to be capped for the first time under Stephen Kenny.

ON SUNDAY night, Sinclair Armstrong became the 20th and perhaps final Ireland player to make his debut under Stephen Kenny.

While delighted on a personal level to have experienced his international bow, the Dubliner acknowledged it was a “bittersweet” occasion.

The happiness at getting his big break was offset by the disappointing 2-1 loss to the Netherlands that effectively ended Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for the Euros.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid,” he told reporters. “It’s a bit of mixed emotions really, as it is in the changing room. But I’m just hoping for many more moments like this to come.”

Armstrong would not have been expecting to make his senior debut so soon.

The attacker was originally part of Jim Crawford’s Ireland U21 squad for this window — and it’s been confirmed he will return there for Tuesday’s clash with San Marino in Turner’s Cross — but injuries to Will Keane and Evan Ferguson earlier in the week meant he received a late call-up for the Dutch game.

“A very good day and a wonderful night for myself and my family,” he said. “My two brothers and my best mate were there watching me make my debut. I started off with the Irish U16s, all the way to the U21s. I think I was told on Friday morning that I was going to be in with the first team. There was obviously a lot of emotion.”

It’s been an incredible rise for Armstrong. Back in August 2018, he made his debut for Shamrock Rovers against Drogheda in the FAI Cup aged 15.

He mainly played for Rovers’ reserve side before making the move across the water to QPR in late 2020. Initially following his move to England, he had to be patient.

The youngster spent time during the 2021–22 campaign on loan in the National League with both Torquay United and Aldershot Town, scoring four goals in 11 appearances.

It was last season that Armstrong began to get game time with QPR, though only four of his 22 Championship appearances were from the outset.

This year, however, the 20-year-old has seemingly gone up a level, starting four of his side’s five league games, and scoring in last month’s 2-1 win over Cardiff City. That encouraging form has ultimately seen him rewarded by Kenny.

“You don’t think you’re going to come on and make your debut but that’s exactly what I did. It’s been a long journey. If you told me in January of this year, from where I was with QPR — and the season I had last season to now — that I’d be making my Ireland debut, I’d have said you were on substances. 

“I’m just a kid from Clondalkin who lives 20 minutes away and has made his international debut. This is only motivation for myself to go back to QPR now and try to bang in the goals. Hopefully, that starts this weekend against Sunderland.

“I’ve a goal and an assist in four starts for QPR. I set myself a standard that that’s not good enough. So I’m obviously going to go back and try to train hard, try to do as much as I can to get the goals in, get more assists and hopefully, finish the year strong.”

Sharing a pitch with an abundance of top-class players on the Dutch team will serve as further inspiration for the promising forward.

“Virgil van Dijk is the best defender in the world. So to play against him tonight, it’s something I thought I wouldn’t do for a long time. This is a guy I watch in the Premier League, week in, week out. He’s a world-class player. So this is motivation for me to keep going, to be better as a human, be better as a footballer and hopefully, many more nights like this will come.”

His palpable joy is also in stark contrast to the last international window when Armstrong was at the centre of a racism controversy that saw the Ireland U21s’ game with Kuwait abandoned after 60 minutes.

He later said he was proud for not punching his alleged abuser and reflecting on the incident last night, added: “What happened in the summer happened in the summer, do you know what I mean? It’s not something I really want to go into depth on but listen: ‘God bless the fella, I pray for him.’

“You see the [Irish] team. You see myself, Festy, Adam Idah, Andrew Omobamidele, there’s a diverse group. But at the end of the day, the words my mum told me: ‘We’re all in this together.’”

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