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First team

Feature: From Nando's and Love Island to scoring against Lyon

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Like any normal teenager, Gavin Kilkenny was enjoying his summer holiday.

Eating Nando’s, playing football in the park with his mates and watching Love Island.

Fast forward six weeks and the 19-year-old midfielder was scoring for the Cherries in a pre-season friendly against seven-time French champions Lyon.

“My phone was popping all weekend!” the affable young Dubliner told afcb.co.uk.

“I’ve got a few more Twitter and Instagram followers but nowhere near as many as the other lads.

“It was a mad few hours but you are quickly back to business in this game.”

Kilkenny is a product of St Kevin’s Boys, the Dublin-based youth football club whose graduates include Damien Duff, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady.

He left home at 16 to join the Cherries and had been preparing for the new season with the club’s under-21s in Alicante before being elevated to the first team in La Manga.

“It’s a big step up but one everyone wants to take,” said Kilkenny, a Republic of Ireland under-19 international. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

“I came back after my summer break and knew I needed to try to get closer to the first team because I’m getting older.

“I was buzzing when I got the call to join up with the squad in La Manga. All the internationals were back and it was proper full-on training. The intensity was unbelievable.

“I will never get ahead of myself but I’ve been living the dream. If you look back six weeks, I was at home in Dublin with my mates and now I’ve just played with people like Nathan Ake, Joshua King and Callum Wilson.

“I wouldn’t say I never expected it to happen because I always hoped and believed it would. It’s been a whirlwind.

“A few weeks ago, I was playing in the park with my mates. We had one proper goal and would use jumpers or bikes for the other one. It’s mad to think what has happened in such a short space of time.”

Raised in Beaumont, a suburb in the north of Dublin, Kilkenny comes from a sporting family with father Alan and mother Ann both keen Gaelic football, hurling and camogie (women’s version of hurling) players. His younger brother Ronan is on the books at Dundalk.

“I played Gaelic football before I played football,” added Kilkenny, whose parents were at Vitality Stadium to see him named sponsors’ man of the match against Lyon.

“I mixed the two and eventually had to make a decision. My dad didn’t want me to stop playing Gaelic but he knew I was a much better footballer. My family have a past in Gaelic, hurling and camogie and were all keen for me to keep playing. I loved it but football was for me.

“Gaelic and hurling both had a big part in toughening me up because they are a lot more physical than football. I’m still small now but, when I was a kid, everyone was a lot bigger than me so I had to toughen up.

“My dad took me to football when I was five. St Kevin’s Boys had mini-leagues and every road in the area had a team.

“Every Easter, they had a tournament and clubs from all over Europe would play and Premier League teams would have scouts there.

“Bournemouth watched me and invited me for a trial in July 2016 and I signed the following month.

“I had to quit school to come here. In Ireland, you do eight years in primary school and six in secondary. I only did four and missed the two biggest years.

“Some of the teachers tried to convince my parents that leaving would be a risk because I would have nothing to fall back on.

“I’d been having trials all over England since I was under-14. You get a taste for it and you are in a bubble. My parents made sure I never got carried away but leaving school was a no-brainer.

“I was never going to stay in school if I got an offer. I knew the risks but couldn’t say no. If you want it enough, you are going to do whatever you can to get it.”

Although Kilkenny moved into digs on Littledown Avenue and was warmly welcomed by his host family, he missed home during the first few months.

“I am a bit of a home bird and it was tough to start with,” he said. “I was homesick. I love Ireland and love Dublin and went home as often as I could.

“It’s much better now and I can cope with being away. Ryanair starting flights from Bournemouth to Dublin was an absolute gift for me! I can probably get home quicker now than the lads who drive back to London.

“My mum and dad come over every three or four weeks and I get to see my girlfriend and mates a lot more than I used to.

"People come over more now because they don’t have to fly to Southampton and then get a train or a taxi down here.”

Until recently, Kilkenny was living in digs in Iford with fellow Irishman Mark Travers who has since moved out and his room has gone to Jaidon Anthony.

“Travs has been a great influence,” said Kilkenny. “He is very professional and does all the right things.

“When I first came here, I was a typical kid, eating chocolate and sweets. Travs kicked me into shape and got me drinking green tea and eating avocado.

“When he made his debut against Spurs, I was sitting in the stand making every save with him. He works so hard and it has rubbed off on me. I need to keep training well, keep trying to impress and see where it takes me.”

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