New faces fit in for boss King ahead of U21 Serbia task
Noel King has challenged the fresh crop of Irish underage talent to live up to their early potential as a new batch of players face up to Serbia this evening.
King is hoping for a winning finish to the qualifying campaign for the U21 finals, morale in the Irish side high after Friday's home win over Slovenia, and wins in their last two games, at home and away to Serbia, could see Ireland sneak a second-place finish in the group. Hopes of a positive result in Serbia this evening were boosted by the fact that Callum O'Dowda rejoins his U21 team-mates after spending the last week with the senior squad.
The front pair of Olamide Shodipo (QPR) and Courtney Duffus (Everton) made their U21 debuts in the Slovenia game, promotion from the U19s for Shodipo while it was a first Ireland call-up at any level for Duffus.
"The new faces such as Olamide Shodipo and Courtney Duffus showed up well on Friday. Both have added substantial things to the group," said King, ahead of the game in Novi Sad today (5pm Irish time).
"How that talent is developed and nurtured only time will tell but at the moment this is an exciting group and the match of this level against a side like Serbia will only benefit the whole group.
"Olamide got a full 90 minutes and contributed both attacking and defending.
"Courtney is at the back end of his pre-season and still needs some more games but what we saw from him was very good.
"We've also brought in Kieran O'Hara, who is a young goalkeeper from Manchester United. He's eligible for the next campaign as well and we'll look forward to seeing how he develops.
"Kevin Toner and Jake Mulraney have also settled in well. Jake is making a big impression about the place, he's a talented young fella playing first team in Scotland.
"He has something different about him - a turn of pace, an eye for goal and he's also eligible for the next three years at this level.," added King, pleased with the side's efforts in the win over Slovenia.
"It was a very comprehensive performance against Slovenia. We had a lot of our top players available.
"When we have everybody in the group we always feel we have a chance," said King.
"Unfortunately, we've lost Alan Browne through suspension and Eoghan O'Connell picked up a knock after he did quite well on his competitive debut. That's disappointing, but other players get a chance now.
"Sean Kavanagh and Darragh Lenihan come back from their own suspensions and Callum O'Dowda comes back after good experience with the first team. He'd be a key part of our group.
"Serbia are World U20 champions and have a super group of players.
"They represent a huge challenge," added King.