Football

How Gavin Kilkenny Went From Bournemouth Afterthought To Potential Ireland Star

How Gavin Kilkenny Went From Bournemouth Afterthought To Potential Ireland Star

Every team needs a midfield general. They help control proceedings, break down the opposition, and even take a breather mid-game when necessary.

Unfortunately for Ireland, such a player has been lacking for quite some time.

Stephen Kenny has plenty of talented midfield options to choose from, all of whom offer a bit of something different. Josh Cullen is brilliant out of possession and Jeff Hendrick brings boundless energy and can operate between the lines. Conor Hourihane has an incredible delivery from out wide, while Jamie McGrath brings physicality and an eye for goal. That is to mention but a few.

What he doesn't have is someone that can keep the match ticking over, dictating the pace of the game with their passing alone.

That could be about to change.

Gavin Kilkenny is not someone who was really on the senior international radar before this season. He had been on the fringes of the Bournemouth first team for the last couple of years, operating mainly as a winger or number ten in the club's U23 side.

At 21 years-old, there was perhaps a sense that this season would be his final opportunity to make a breakthrough on the south coast. As is it turned out, the appointment of Scott Parker as manager was all he needed to get that new lease of life, and in a revised role too.

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Kilkenny first lined out for the club in a holding midfield role in pre-season due to injuries to other members of the squad, something that surprised Dorset Live Bournemouth reporter Jacob Tanswell. However, speaking to Balls, he said that any concerns he had about the Dubliner operating in that position were quickly alleviated.

I was surprised. I used to play in the academy, and I never played with Kilkenny because I wasn't in the same age group, but I had heard about him. I always thought of him as more of an attacking player, I saw him play left wing or number ten a couple of times.

When I saw he was playing as a holding midfielder in pre-season I thought there could be issues there initially. I was surprised, but as soon as I saw him all those doubts were settled...

I tweeted about it in the very first game. I looked at Kilkenny and thought 'you are the perfect Scott Parker midfielder'. He can keep the ball, dictate the tempo, has that 60-yard pass in him.

He is playing in that deep lying midfield position, he has time to look up and the game is being played in front of him, I think that suits his skillset so well.

Kilkenny began the Championship campaign in tremendous form, starting each of Bournemouth's first four league games and earning plenty of plaudits for his performances in midfield. Then, all of a sudden, he found himself out of the matchday squad altogether.

That was largely down to circumstances beyond his control. A number of first choice players at the club, including the likes of Ben Pearson and Jefferson Lerma, became available once again. Scott Parker felt it made sense to keep some more attacking options on the bench, with the St Kevin's product left in the stands as a result.

He bided his time, grabbing his next opportunity with both hands in recent weeks. He has started Bournemouth's last three fixtures as the club extended their lead at the top of the Championship.

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Jacob Tanswell says there have also been some indications that the player had picked up some of the little tricks that he will need to master if he is to become a real presence in the middle third.

Since he has come back into the team he has actually picked up two yellow cards in three games.

He has a little bit more aggression. That was an issue initially, I remember a game at Nottingham Forest where there was an issue defending counterattacks and Kilkenny was struggling. I think since he has come back in he has been a bit more robust, making those fouls.

Against Stoke he got booked in the first few minutes for a pull back, those are fouls that are quietly important in that position.

This is an area in which he will need to improve, there are few doubts about his ability on the ball. While it is still very early in his development, there are some indications that he could be the one to fill that midfield general role for Ireland.

Jacob Tanswell compared his playing style to that of one of the main contenders for this year's Ballon d'Or.

Obviously he is nowhere near that level, but he is in that sort of Jorginho mould.

He's not the type of guy that is going to break it up or roam around and crash into tackles, he will be quite gentle in his approach. He will regulate the tempo and he is a very accurate passer.

There were a few times in the first few games where he gave away the ball, but in the last three games it has been short passes and not giving it away. He plays the type of passes that are perfect in that position.

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All of that leads to the question of a potential first Ireland call-up next week.

As mentioned above, Stephen Kenny has plenty of options in midfield. Not many of them bring the sort of qualities Kilkenny can. He certainly seems to have many of the traits the side would benefit from, even if it would mean missing out on the crucial U21 European Championship fixtures against Italy and Sweden next month.

As someone who watches him regularly, Jacob sees no reason why he couldn't thrive at international level.

I think you need to get him in. You would know the Republic of Ireland squad a lot better than me, but I think with Kilkenny you have a player that performs better the greater level he goes to.

In the games against lesser sides he kind of just carries on, but against better teams with a quicker tempo it perfectly suits him...

I think it might take a little bit of time for him to settle into that (3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1) formation.  I'm not sure how he is playing in a holding two, but I do think he would be a player of massive worth to Ireland.

There is little doubt that Stephen Kenny will agree, it's just a matter of whether these November internationals have come a bit too soon for him.

As he has shown in recent months, Gavin Kilkenny will have no issues stepping up if required.

SEE ALSO: Ronan Curtis 'Had It Out' With Stephen Kenny After Being Dropped

ronan curtis stephen kenny ireland omission

Gary Connaughton

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