Captain leads NI to success

Ben Kennedy.
Ben Kennedy.

Lisburn lad Ben Kennedy says it was a ‘great honour’ to lead Northern Ireland U19s through the first stage of the European Championships qualifiers.

The Stevenage striker helped the team through the Qualifying Round in Sochi, Russia, earning them a spot in the Elite Round in Spring.

From there, just seven teams will qualify for the final tournament in Germany in July.

NI have reached the Elite Stage just twice before, in 2006 and 2010, and this year they did it the hard way.

After Kennedy’s goals helped secure a win over Norway and a draw with hosts Russia, they were beaten by Slovakia. However, a draw in Monday’s other game between Norway and Russia ensured NI were through.

“Before the game against Slovakia, we knew we were in with a good chance,” Ben told the ‘STAR.’ “It all came through during the last five minutes that were going to make it. Our coaches started cheering so we had a fair idea what was going on.

“It was absolutely brilliant. The lads are all really good guys and obviously it’s a great honour for us all to represent our country and for me to be captain.

“We’ve been together for a few years now but we went over there as underdogs. Nobody expected us to qualify so that made for a pretty special atmosphere after the final game.

“It will be brilliant to play against some of the biggest teams in Europe. We’d love to play against the likes of Spain but we’ll just have to wait and see who we get.”

Kennedy and his team-mates will find out who they will face when the draw is made in Nyon on 3rd December.

Back at club level, Kennedy will return for Stevenage’s home game against Luton Town in League Two tomorrow (Saturday).

He has scored twice in eight games so far this season and has also penned a new deal at the club.

Since making his senior debut in January, rumours have been rife surrounding a potential move to top clubs including Arsenal and Tottenham.

“There has been talk about different clubs but I don’t think about that,” he said. “I’m just enjoying myself at Stevenage. I’ll keep my head down and work hard.”

Kennedy is now playing under former Manchester United striker and Stevenage manager Teddy Sheringham, who is keen on his young star.

“(Teddy)’s a really good lad,” said Kennedy. “Playing as a striker, I’m learning so much from him. I’m just taking every day as it comes and I’ll try and better myself each day.”