Wait is over for Collins
Teen finally gets green light for first start against Armenia
Even if it's come a bit later than envisaged, Nathan Collins views today's Ireland U21 debut as a pathway to senior progression.
The strapping defender was prominent on the list of prospects from his key role in successive U17 European Championship finals appearances. That was before he broke into Stoke City's Championship side by the age of 17.
Something had to give amid his rise and it proved to be Ireland's first appearance for eight years at the U19 European finals.
The showpiece in Romania last July clashed with Stoke's pre-season preparation and his employers put their foot down.
A calf injury prevented him making his U21 bow in September. That, ironically, was also against Armenia.
Such was his pace of his ascent that Collins was also included on the long list for Mick McCarthy's full squad.
The 18-year-old recovered from his knock to make the bench for last month's U21 double-header and has now been confirmed by Kenny as one of four debutants for this afternoon's Euro qualifier in Yerevan.
Hailing from a famous footballing family stretching back to his grandfather, Transport's 1950 FAI Cup winning skipper Michael Collins, the latest member is poised to break new ground within the dynasty.
His uncle Eamonn and father Dave both came close to earning senior caps in the 1980s and 1990s respectively. Barring a catastrophe, senior honours await for Ireland's most promising defensive teen talent.
"It is always a proud moment for my family when representing Ireland," he said last night.
"I would have liked to be at the Euros in the summer but Stoke wanted to keep me for my first full pre-season with the first-team. I think that really helped my game.
"I've waited a while for this U21 debut, so I'm buzzing to get a start. I want to progress and hopefully can keep moving towards the senior squad.
"We know that this Armenia side are dangerous but our camp has gone well and we're very confident of getting the win."
Collins has no reason to worry that Stoke's new manager Michael O'Neill won't also look upon him favourably.
His successor Nathan Jones propelled the youngster into his team and handed him the captaincy for the League Cup win over Wigan Athletic.
His next outing in the competition wasn't so fruitful when getting sent-off against Crawley Town eight weeks ago.
"The new gaffer came in the day before Saturday's game at Barnsley and had a real positive impact in the win," he said.
"It's up to me to win him over but I feel in good form. I'm well recovered from suffering the injury and getting sent off."
Collins is just one component of a new-look defence on show today.
Gavin Bazunu, at just 17, starts in goal behind three fellow newcomers in Collins and full-backs Danny McNamara and Thomas O'Connor.
Ireland cannot afford any more set-backs after Iceland inflicted a first defeat of the campaign last month.
Despite still being top of Group One, Italy and Iceland have fewer games played than Ireland. Dropping points to a lower seed could prove fatal to their Euro ambitions.
IRELAND (probable): G Bazunu (Manchester City); D McNamara (Newport County), D O'Shea (West Bromwich Albion) - capt, N Collins (Stoke City), T O'Connor (Gillingham); J Knight (Derby County), C Coventry (West Ham United); C Ronan (DAC Dunajská Streda), D Mandroiu (Bohemians), Gavin Kilkenny (Bournemouth); A Idah (Norwich City).
- Euro U21 qualifier: Armenia v Rep of Ireland (KO 12.0 Irish time)