In the latest entry of Kenny’s Kids‘ series on exciting young Irish footballers, he examines the rapid rise of Derby midfelder Jason Knight.
This season is certainly one to remember for Jason Knight.
He earned all seven of his Republic of Ireland U21 caps and broke into Derby County’s side, impressing manager Philip Cocu, who has made Jason a key part of his plans at the club.
The 19-year-old began this season with their U23 outfit, yet, just a few months later, the club found itself “struggling to keep” the young prospect.
With four goals and one assist already this season, Knight’s name can be heard being sung from the terraces at Pride Park.
At four years old, Jason Knight started out with Cabinteely FC, who have helped produced ex-internationals like Andy Keogh and Alan O’Brien in the past.
It was around 2015 that Cabinteely were making their debut in the League of Ireland, and at this time, Jason was playing for their U14 premier team. He then went on to represent the Dublin District Schoolboys League (DDSL) in the prestigious Kennedy Cup. Derby scouts were present and within weeks they took him on a trial, subsequently signing him on a three-year deal.
The following year saw Jason settle info life at Derby, but notably, he captained Ireland’s U16 side to lift the Victory Shield for the first time.
Ireland beat Wales, Northern Ireland and hosts Scotland, with a strong side featuring Adam Idah, Nathan Collins and Luca Connell to name a few. By 2017, Knight was firing on all cylinders for both club and country, earning the FAI U16 Player of the Year award, as well as progressing to Derby’s U23 side in style.
The 2018/19 season saw Jason excel with Derby’s U18 and U23 sides, along with making the step up to Ireland’s U19s, where he started in their 2-1 win over the Netherlands.
Morgan Whittaker and Jason Knight have penned new long-term contracts with Derby County! 💫
— Derby County (🏠) (@dcfcofficial) January 22, 2020
By May 2019, Jason had just lifted the U18 Premier League title, and Derby boss Frank Lampard was beginning to take note. He called Knight up to the Derby bench for the first time in the Championship play-off semi-final second leg, and then for the final itself. He wasn’t brought on in either game, but having just turned 18, there was no rush.
Knight has been capped at every level for Ireland, but did not make his U21 debut until Stephen Kenny brought him to the Toulon Tournament in the summer of 2019.
He also broke into Derby’s first team, making his debut in a 2-1 win away to Huddersfield in early August.
New Derby manager Philip Cocu spoke passionately about the need to develop through their academy, and they now boast a wealth of promising young players who are lighting up the Championship.
Cocu has praised Knight on numerous occasions, applauding his work ethic, stamina and dribbling, but it was this quote on his versatility that really stood out:
“Sometimes he has to play on the right, sometimes in the midfield and sometimes on the left. Tactically he does things right for the team and he is a real team player. I just enjoy watching him work and play football.”
Jason is now on the cusp of senior international football under Stephen Kenny, and I would expect him to have a bright future in the Premier League.
He is putting in the hard work, and so have his coaches from a young age, a shining example that there are countless pathways to make it in football.
Cabinteely, Derby and Jason himself should all be proud but the best is definitely still to come.
*Intl Apps from U17 & up