All day, all week, in fact ever since the goal against Arsenal on December 31st, the din around Evan Ferguson has grown louder and louder ahead of the international at the Aviva against Latvia.
Too much pressure for an 18-year-old. Ridiculous levels of expectation. No way he would score on his first start for Ireland. But he did, knocking in Michael Obafemi’s knock back after just 16 minutes, and generally playing well in a 3-2 win for the home side.
“I don’t think there is much better feeling than scoring at home with family and friends watching, there is no other way to describe it,” said the teenager, towering over reporters in the mixed zone on a night that would overwhelm most.
The new Castore Ireland shirt, number 19 stitched with his name, the date and Latvia, is in his hand along with a letter labelled Bohemian FC.
“I am going to bring [the shirt] back and give it to my Mam and Dad, just give it to them and they will probably stick it in a frame. They were here, family and friends.”
It all seemed so natural to him. Unshaken by the hoopla, what with seven goals in all competitions for Brighton this season, including three in the Premier League?
“I think so, yeah, because it was sort of similar to the positions I was picking up when I play with Brighton, so it felt comfortable.”
Playing for Ireland should, in theory, feel similar to those Premier League days at Anfield and Old Trafford, but it is something else.
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“It is obviously a different level, it means something different playing international. Every game, there is more on the line for internationals, so it just feels a bit different playing for your country.”
The last player this young to score for Ireland was Robbie Keane, 25 years ago. He accepts the comment and switches focus to Monday European Championships qualifier.
“I am thinking about the France game and see if I can get another one.”
Kylian Mbappé gets a mention.
“I think we just have to try our best and we are probably going to have to double up on whatever we can see. But I don’t think we should be too worried.”
For his part, manager Stephen Kenny was more than happy with the performance of his young guns.
Stephen Kenny wasn’t about to heap great expectations on young shoulders, but he reckoned the game was still a decent precursor to the main event against France next Monday.
Newcomers Ferguson, Will Smallbone and Mikey Johnston all produced exciting moments, but it remains to be seen what game-time each will receive against France.
In his post-game press conference, Kenny admitted Man of the Match Smallbone had given him plenty to think about with regards to his selection for Monday’s Euro 2024 Qualifier, but quickly added that two of his key midfielders had been rested for the friendly, Josh Cullen and Jason Knight, with an eye to the arrival of the French.
“I watched a good bit of Stoke recently, I’ve been so impressed by how he has kicked on,” said Kenny.
“He was a good player earlier in the season in some games and quiet in others, quiet within games at times. But he’s been very good recently, he’s really added other aspects to his game and has come on a lot, so he has given us something to think about certainly.”
Ferguson’s first senior international goal on his first start was also a highlight, but Kenny was keen to keep the expectation levels realistic.
“It’s never straightforward with players, injuries can take their toll on young players, the demands are high in the leagues they are in,” said Kenny.
“What we have now is a high number of players that have come through, unprecedented in history in such short proximity, what that has given us is depth in our squad so that when players are missing it doesn’t mean that we have incredible quality in all positions all of the time, but we are improving all of the time our depth I feel.
“Evan, it’s only his first start, he got a goal, but he’s only 18, we can’t predict things in the future, he’s still learning the game but he took everything in stride.
“I think that’s a good start to the week, get the win, score three goals, we’re not euphoric or ecstatic, conceded two, but it’s a good start to the week.”