For Irish Under-21 midfielder Gavin Kilkenny, Friday night’s 1-0 victory over Armenia was another first in a season that has already been filled with many.
Included in Stephen Kenny’s squad for the first time ever, Kilkenny was handed his first start as a stylish and free-flowing Irish side comfortably defeated their opponents to make it two wins from two in qualifying for the 2021 European Championships.
Kilkenny looked sharp operating out on the right of a very attacking front four and never looked out of his depth in his first time operating at this age grade on the international stage.
“I really enjoyed it,” Kilkenny told Pundit Arena after the game.
“It was a great honour. This is what you want to do when you play football you want to play for your country so it’s another step in the right direction.”
The 19-year-old has been taking leaps, rather than steps, in the right direction over the past year or so, going from a relatively unknown prospect at Bournemouth to Under-21 international and one of Eddie Howe’s brightest talents.
During the summer he was included in the Cherries’ pre-season squad and shone when given his chance, with a goal against French giants Lyon in their final game before the start of the Premier League campaign, the highlight of his summer burst onto the scene.
Kilkenny failed to make the squad for Bournemouth’s first few Premier League games but was handed a first competitive start for the club in the Carabao Cup against Forest Green two weeks ago.
Once again, the former St Kevin’s Boys standout looked comfortable with the jump up in level and his ability on the ball and technical prowess is clearly something manager Eddie Howe is a fan of.
So how did Kilkenny find his first team debut at the Premier League club and working with a manager of the calibre of Eddie Howe?
“It was a step up,” he admitted.
“I’d been training with the first team a lot recently but you kind of get used to it gradually, it was a really big step-up but I really enjoyed it.
“Eddie is a great manager, really good. I’m learning a lot from him every day and he’s pushing me on, so I’m really enjoying that.”
Kilkenny’s rise up the ranks has been rapid and although he has represented Ireland at Under-17, Under-18 and Under-19 level, but he hasn’t been the subject of the hype the likes of his teammates Troy Parrott, Adam Idah or Aaron Connolly have endured.
The midfielder admits that he’s heard the ‘under the radar’ narrative surrounding his career so far but felt as though all he needed to do burst onto the scene for both club and country was get that little bit of luck – which came over the summer.
“A few people are saying I’ve kind of come under the radar. I do feel that a little bit. I’ve just come up in the last few months. I thought from my own perspective I had been ready but it was just a case of getting that lucky break and thankfully it finally happened.
“I’m just trying to take it in my stride.”
To be tipped for greatness from an early age can have its ill-effects. It comes with a huge sense of pressure. A constant weight on a young player’s shoulders.
Kilkenny believes the fact that he was allowed to grow and develop as a player away from the limelight that surrounds some prospects was a huge help to his game.
The pressure, he felt, was never really there.
“I think it was better for me in some ways. It helped me develop. It was kind of a case where you don’t want to get overhyped and then what if you don’t live up to it?
“Nobody really knew about me so there was no pressure and you just work your way up and try to do what you do.
“There were no shackles on me or anything like that.”
Ireland U21s take on Sweden in Kalmar on Tuesday night, another game Kilkenny will no doubt have hopes of starting in, especially given his strong display against Armenia.
But after his latest ‘first’ in a season of ‘firsts’ the question now is, what comes ‘next?’
“I’d love to get in the Premier League squad but the next goal is Sweden on Tuesday night and hopefully get in the team again.”