Johnny Kenny a star for the present and the future

Of the 85 players who featured on the opening weekend of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season last weekend only one would be (legally) unable to buy a pint right now if pubs were open or vote in an election if one were taking place.

That man is Sligo Rovers attacker Johnny Kenny.

The 17-year-old might have been the youngest player to feature across the league last weekend but he gave a performance against Dundalk that belied his years.

The Riverstown youngster might not have scored, assisted or even ended up on the winning side last Saturday but it’s surely only a matter of time before he ticks all three boxes.

Kenny, whose father Johnny Snr also played for the Bit O Red, was up against a back three on the night comprising of two capped internationals in Andy Boyle and Sonni Nattestad, not to mention the highly-rated Daniel Cleary. It would have been easy for nerves to get the better of him on his League of Ireland debut but, if anything, it was his opponents who he had quaking in their boots.

Midway through the first half a sharp turn was followed by a shot that was unlucky not to find the bottom corner. He then made a mug of Boyle by dispossessing him in the corner shortly after with only a fine covering block from Cleary denying him a goal.

Kenny only grew in stature then in the second half when he was unlucky not to turn in Colm Horgan’s cross before being denied after a good run and shot by Alessio Abibi. In the closing moments he forced another save from the Albanian which should have proved the catalyst for a winning goal only for the linesman to wrongly flag for offside when David Cawley’s follow up was tapped in by Mark Byrne.

I had heard plenty of hype about Johnny in pre-season but Saturday showed he was the real deal and – while I don’t want to overhype someone who is still in school – I expect many across the league to sit up and take notice of him as the season wears on.

Ahead of his live television debut this Friday night when Liam Buckley’s side travel to the RSC to face Waterford he was likened to another former Sligo ace, Seani Maguire by his ex-Cork City team-mate Greg Bolger.

On the evidence of the way he put himself about and ran the channels against defenders much bigger than him that looks a fair comparison.

The only hope now is that fans get back to The Showgrounds sooner rather than later to appreciate him in the flesh because if he can build on a stunning debut against Dundalk then it’s doubtful he will be playing on these shores for very long.

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