Celtic’s Scottish winger Mikey Johnston opts to play for Ireland
Boost for Stephen Kenny as Celtic star commits his future to Ireland
Celtic winger Mikey Johnston, a Glaswegian who is currently on loan with Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes, has opted to switch his international allegiance to Ireland.
The 23-year-old has been in talks with Stephen Kenny over the winter and it’s understood he has gone through the requisite process to apply for a switch to Irish colours.
He qualifies for Ireland by virtue of his grandparents being from Derry.
Final clearance from FIFA is believed to be imminent and that would make Johnston an outside contender for the double-header with Latvia and France later this month.
Ireland manager Stephen Kenny was in Portugal on Monday night to take a closer look at the former Scottish U-21 international in a league game, but Johnston was an unused sub in fifth-placed Vitoria’s win over Braga.
He was first choice up until Christmas but has been in and out of the side since then in a loan spell that was designed to get his career back on track after a nightmare run with injuries.
Brendan Rodgers handed Johnston his Celtic debut in May 2017, a month after his 18th birthday.
He was already on the FAI’s radar at that juncture, but opted to rebuff advances to go with Scotland.
Johnston’s full breakthrough came in the 2018/19 campaign where he played regularly under Rodgers and he remained in the picture after the arrival of Neil Lennon in the dugout, with the youth academy product signing a new five-year deal in December 2019 after scoring six goals in 17 appearances to that point of the season.
However, he sustained medial ligament damage a month later and spent almost a year on the sidelines, a setback that halted his momentum. He struggled for gametime after his return and started just five games in all competitions under Ange Postecoglou last term, with his other 15 outings coming off the bench.
In total, Johnston has made 80 appearances for Celtic, scoring 11 times although 49 of those appearances came off the bench.
Postecoglou endorsed the idea of Johnston going to Portugal to reboot his career.
“There’s definitely a talented footballer there but sometimes you just need a different environment to help that happen,” he said last July.
Johnston initially emerged as a left winger but has also played on the right side. Kenny has always been open about his desire to strengthen in wide areas and the skilful performer will now be hoping to play his way into Kenny’s thoughts.
Ireland’s Euros campaign opens against France on March 27 but the friendly with Latvia five days earlier is likely to be an avenue for fringe operators to make an impression.
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