Belfast Telegraph

Who is Matthew Kennedy? All you need to know about the new-boy in the Northern Ireland squad to face the Netherlands

Scotland Under 21 international Matty Kennedy (centre) trains with the Northern Ireland squad for the first time at Windsor Park.
Scotland Under 21 international Matty Kennedy (centre) trains with the Northern Ireland squad for the first time at Windsor Park.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Matthew Kennedy is the latest player to make an international switch to represent Northern Ireland.

Previously cappped at underage level by Scotland, he has made the decision to play for the country of his birth and flew in and trained at Windsor Park on Wednesday.

While his international clearance did not come through in time for Kennedy to play a part in the friendly against Luxembourg last month, he has been included in Michael O'Neill's squad for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifier in the Netherlands and friendly in the Czech Republic.

So just who is he?

Here's all you need to know:

Who is Matty Kennedy?

Age: 24

Position: Winger / Striker

Place of birth: Belfast, Northern Ireland

So that's how he qualifies for Northern Ireland then? Yes, well done Sherlock. His call-up comes with a big assist from his boss at St Johnstone, Tommy Wright, who was the one to alert Michael O'Neill of Kennedy's eligibility.

International experience so far: Plenty. Kennedy has played for Scotland, where he moved to live in South Ayrshire at a young age with his Scottish parents, at every level from Under 15s to Under 21s. However, he has never managed to make the step up to senior international football and has now looked to the country of his birth to get that jump.

Young beginnings: He turned down both Celtic and Rangers to begin his career at Kilmarnock's youth academy, handed his first-team debut in November 2011 by then manager Kenny Shiels, who is now in charge of the Northern Ireland women's side.

Big money move: Kennedy was snapped up by Everton for £250k the very next summer, having made 14 Scottish Premiership appearances. Shiels feared it was too early, preferring he had stayed to gain more senior experience. He wouldn't make a senior appearance for the Toffees, although appeared on the bench for three Premier League games in the 12/13 season. Loan spells at Tranmere, MK Dons and Hibernian followed, his first senior goal coming for the Dons in a 2-2 draw at Rotherham in April 2014.

Off to Wales: Kennedy was signed by Cardiff at the start of 2015, making a flying start and hailed as 'just what Cardiff needed'. It wasn't to last and loan spells at Port Vale, Plymouth and Portsmouth followed. It was at Plymouth that he enjoyed a particularly impressive spell, scoring five League Two goals and nominated for the EFL League Two Player of the Month award for February 2017.

Back to Scotland: He was released by Cardiff in 2018 and went back north, joining St Johnstone under Northern Irish manager Tommy Wright. The boss said he was 'a really exciting signing'. Since arriving, he has become one of the club's key players, scoring 10 goals so far.

Tell us more about this style: When he joined Tranmere Rovers back in 2014, boss Ronnie Moore said: "He's quick, likes to take on defenders and will create chances for his team-mates." Last year, St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright added: "He's quick, comfortable with both feet and I'm sure it's a signing that will excite the fans because he's a real talent and plays football in an exciting manner."

So is he a winger or a striker? Both, really. Traditionally, he played out wide but since his move to St Johnstone, he has increasingly played up top. In fact, that's where he ideally sees himself now. “I’d love to get the shout to play up front," he said just last month. “I enjoyed it last season and scored a few goals. I’d like another chance – on my own or with a partner.”

And Steven Gerrard is a fan? Kennedy was named as the sole striker for St Johnstone when they led Gerrard's Rangers 1-0 at half-time in December. Kennedy had struck to give his side the advantage and Gerrard would go on to say "Kennedy was really good, a top 45 minutes. He was a constant thorn in our side." That Rangers came back to win 2-1 didn't detract from his individual performance.

What's the tattoo on his left leg about? One is a tribute to his dad.

So he could be a coup for Northern Ireland? That's the word Tommy Wright used for St Johnstone's Kennedy capture and Michael O'Neill will be hoping it's the same for his international side. He has certainly impressed in significant spells during his young career so far and if he makes a similar impact to other recent recruits like George Saville and Jordan Jones, it won't be long before he's a recognised member of the Northern Ireland panel.

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