Jason Knight has insisted the Republic of Ireland’s candidacy for World Cup qualification is not yet dead in the water despite a disastrous start to the campaign.
Stephen Kenny’s men traveled to Serbia in March with high hopes of launching their quest for a trip to Qatar next year with a positive result, but eventually came back on the wrong side with a 3-2 score after a sometimes encouraging performance.
However, all the positives of that near-crash were erased three days later when they were beaten 1-0 by Luxembourg at the Aviva Stadium, leaving them with their eyes riveted on the barrel as they prepare for the September triple against Portugal, Azerbaijan and the Serbs.
But when asked if he still believes there was something to fight for following Thursday night’s friendly 4-1 win in Andorra, the 20-year-old Derby Knight midfielder has declared: “One hundred percent.
“As long as there is hope, we still believe in ourselves, and it will start in the first game.
“We always want to win the next game and perform well. But there is a period of transition and a building going on here.
This transition was initiated by Kenny, who left the Under-21 ranks in April last year to replace Mick McCarthy and has since raised a series of players to the senior stage.
The process was not without its challenges – the comeback victory in Andorra was his first victory in the 12th attempt – but there were notable successes along the way with the emergence of Knight one of them. .
Then 19, he was preparing to play for the Under-21s in Italy in October when he was called up to Helsinki to meet the senior squad and rewarded with a start as a late substitute in a loss. 1-0 in the Nations League against Finland.
He won his sixth senior cap at the Estadi Nacional in Andorra la Vella and scored the occasion with his first goal, a situation he admits to being beyond his wildest dreams there. not so long ago.
Knight said: “Playing in my sixth appearance and scoring a goal would have been out of my mind at the time. For this to happen now is a dream.
Taking his first steps on the big stage at such a trying time for the national team brought his own challenges, but the midfielder, as well as players like Dara O’Shea and Jayson Molumby took it all in his stride and bought into Kenny’s vision for the future.
He said: “It’s a transition and it’s going to take time. Hopefully tonight will be a catalyst to move forward and perform well.
The next opportunity will come in Tuesday night’s friendly clash with Euro 2020 finalist Hungary in Budapest, when Ireland hope to build on a victory that eased the growing pressure, but given the opposition, did not answer all questions.
Troy Parrott’s brace laid the groundwork, but Knight’s strike on substitute Daryl Horgan’s cross saw the Republic clear before he reciprocated on death.
He said with a smile: “It was just for me to set it up like it set me up with great delivery.”