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'It's certainly no disgrace moving on from Liverpool, the competition is very high there'

Stephen Kenny has backed Conor Masterson to bounce back from his recent setback.

Conor Masterson pictured playing for Ireland U21s earlier this year.
Conor Masterson pictured playing for Ireland U21s earlier this year.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Updated at 20.13

IRELAND U21S BOSS Stephen Kenny has backed Conor Masterson to bounce back from the disappointing news that he is set to be released by Liverpool.

The 20-year-old Celbridge native was highly thought of at Anfield, gaining invites to train with the first team and appearing on the bench on three occasions.

Masterson has spent the past seven years at Anfield, having joined from Lucan United, and it recently emerged that the club would not be renewing his contract this summer.

Injury problems in recent times have curtailed Masterson’s progress, with others at Anfield, such as 17-year-old Dutch defender Ki-Jana Hoever, moving ahead of the Irishman in the pecking order.

The youngster was named in the Ireland U21 squad today, having started at centre-back in their recent European Championships qualifying win over Luxembourg, and Kenny believes he will recover from the setback.

“I’m sure Conor has some options. I’ve not spoken to him about them, his future is his own decision. All I can say is he trained very well with us the week of Luxembourg and acquitted himself very well in the game with a good performance.

“It’s certainly no disgrace moving on from Liverpool, the competition is very high there. I’m sure he’ll have a great career ahead of him. This is an opportunity for him to play in the U21 international team in Toulon and play more matches.” 

In addition to Masterson, there were some unfamiliar faces included in Kenny’s squad for the upcoming Toulon Tournament in June, with 20-year-old Hammersmith-born Barnet midfielder Jack Taylor receiving his first call-up.

I’ve been to see Jack a few times. I’ve seen him at Barnet versus Brentford in the FA Cup — it was a 3-3 draw. He had an excellent game. He was previously at Chelsea, went to Barnet, has played 80 times in League Two and the conference. It’s a different route for some players. Some players have persisted with the U23 league. He’s played 80 first-team games so you have to respect that. He’s a goalscoring midfielder who plays as a number 10 really, or attacking midfield player. He plays very advanced, is very mobile and a good footballer. His father’s family are from Longford, so he’s selected.”

Another new face is Belfast native Stephen Mallon, who last January signed on loan with Australian A-League team Central Coast Mariners from Sheffield United.

“He’s obviously playing for Central Coast and he came into a situation where they were bottom of the league; it wasn’t easy. He can play on either flank or operate in a number 10 role. So he’s quite a versatile player, a left-footed player who can play equally on the right, cutting in on the right.

“With the balance of the squad, we’ve opted to go with four wingers and three centre forwards and we have only taken three central defenders. So we have opted to go with more forwards than the previous squad for this tournament to give ourselves more attacking potential off the bench in matches, in case of players getting injured and so forth.”

Brighton youngster Aaron Connolly also features, having missed the Luxembourg game through injury.

The Galway-born attacker was recently named Premier League 2 Player of the Year, and Kenny describes the 19-year-old — who had an injury-hit loan spell at Luton in the second half of the season — as a “goalscorer” and “someone of really high potential”.

One player who does not feature, however, is defender Nathan Collins. The 18-year-old Leixlip native made three first-team appearances for Stoke last month, while recent reports have linked him with a move to Man United.

Nathan Collins has been absolutely excellent,” Kenny adds. “And in fact, he was in UCD last night, watching UCD and Cork. His brother plays for UCD, of course, Josh.

“He’s been really good. Obviously he is part of Tom Mohan’s [U19 squad], the earlier qualifiers in Ireland earlier in the year. He didn’t go to Russia but he has made his debut already for Stoke in the first team and is a great prospect for us.”

And so is Collins a player that Kenny would prefer to leave to compete in the younger Irish age groups for now?

“Yeah, we are looking at a holistic approach with a few and we take an overall view and he’ll get plenty of opportunities. Nathan, he is a terrific prospect.”

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Paul Fennessy

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