Conor Coventry has been starring regularly for the Ireland U21s of late. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Dual Nationality

West Ham youngster had no doubts about picking Ireland over England

Conor Coventry qualifies to represent the Boys in Green through his Irish-born mother.

IRISH FANS MIGHT be forgiven for fearing that they are experiencing deja vu.

Of late, a promising London-born defensive midfielder has been playing consistently well for the U21 side.

Of course, the last time that happened, Declan Rice ended up switching his allegiance to England.

Conor Coventry, however, insists he will not be doing likewise.

The 19-year-old qualifies for the Boys in Green through his Irish-born mother and has been an integral part of the U21 team since Stephen Kenny took over last November. Before that, he also represented Ireland at U17 and U19 level.

“When I was younger, Mark O’Toole scouted me playing for West Ham,” he recalls. “Once he said to me there was interest, I knew straight away then. If I didn’t know, once I played, it confirmed it. Straight away, I just fell in love with playing. So there was no question of where I wanted to play.”

Instead of Rice, therefore, Coventry is hoping to follow the pathway of another ex-Ireland U21 international midfielder who is currently on the books at West Ham.

Josh Cullen recently made his Ireland senior debut, having previously caught the eye at underage level, while the 23-year-old has also impressed on loan at Charlton, with the side currently 10th in the Championship.

Cullen, Coventry says, is a good role model for him.

“We’re on similar paths. I trained with Josh a few times when I was young and growing up. He always does everything right. He’s someone you can really learn from. I try to be like him really. His personality, his character, is what you need.”

Meanwhile, Rice’s rise at West Ham indicates Coventry is at a club willing to give youngsters a chance, while Cullen’s progress at Charlton has highlighted an alternative route for making the grade.

I’ve seen a lot of both of them and they’re two people that do everything in their power to be the best players they can be. It just really shows that hard work is the biggest thing.

“I’ve seen both of them play lots of first-team games between them and obviously with the senior international games as well. It shows that it’s there for boys like us who are coming through the academy — if we dream enough and work hard enough, we can do it.”

And Coventry has made some encouraging steps too in recent times for West Ham, appearing twice in the League Cup over the course of this season and last.

“My first game was a bit of a rare one. We won 8-0 at home. I dreamed of playing for West Ham since I signed when I was 10. So to finally play was amazing. This season we played at Newport away and I came on again, so it was just a dream come true really. Hopefully, I can keep going and make more appearances.”

For now though, Coventry must be content with U23 football, having opted against going on loan at the start of the season on the advice of his coach.

There was talk of me going on loan at the start of the season. I spoke to the manager and he says it’d be better for me to stay and keep training with [the senior team] as much as I could. So I’ve stayed. I’ve trained with them fairly often. The 23s are doing well. We’re top of the league at the moment, so we’ve got a really strong side and we’re just enjoying what we’re doing at the moment.”

And on Thursday, Coventry is expected to partner Brighton’s Jayson Molumby in central midfield in front of a sold-out Tallaght stadium for what surely will be one of the biggest games of his career so far.

Ireland will go into the crucial qualifier against Italy in confident mood, following an impressive recent win away to Sweden — the second seeds in the group.

“As soon as the group was drawn, everyone sees Italy. It’s the [type of game] you do remember playing in. So to win at home, before we even talk about the group, would be an amazing feeling. Obviously, group-wise, it puts us nine points above Italy if we won. So it’s a massive game in both aspects really.

“No disrespect to the first two games, we were expected to go and win them. But to win in Sweden and win in the way we did is obviously a big statement. We scored the goals late, but we dominated the whole game really.

“So I think teams will definitely be wary of us and take notice.”

Eoin Toolan and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to give an in-depth breakdown of where Ireland’s play stacks up against the contenders in Japan, and look into why New Zealand and England are primed for World Cup success.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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