A saving grace

FALKIRK filled their goalkeeping void yesterday with the signing of promising Austrian stopper Robert Olejnik.

The 20-year-old joins the Bairns on a two-year contract after being released by Premiership side Aston Villa.

Six foot Olejnik has gained international honours at under-17, 19 and 21 level and joined the Villa Park club as a 16-year-old in 2003.

And, as well as helping to take Falkirk up the table, the Vienna-born

player has set his sights on representing Austria in the 2008 UEFA European Championships.

It is good news on the keeper front for Bairns fans after Jeroen Lambers left the club to sign for Dutch Eerste Divisie outfit BV Veendam.

Meanwhile, on-loan Kasper Schmeichel, who was the regular starter between the sticks since January, has been re-called to Manchester City for pre-season training.

Olejnik, however, is looking forward to playing for Falkirk and staking his claim as manager John Hughes' number one choice.

Heraldsport caught up with the keeper shortly after he passed his medical on Wednesday.

"I'm delighted to have joined Falkirk and really look forward to the challenge ahead," he said.

"I spent a week up here, saw the training facilities, the stadium, and got a good idea of how well they treat their players.

"After that, there was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that this was a fantastic club and that I wanted to sign."

Last season Olejnik provided cover for Thomas Sorensen and Stuart Taylor at Villa, and was on the bench for Martin O'Neill's side on more than 10 occasions.

He was also briefly loaned out to Football League Two side Lincoln City before being recalled after six weeks.

"I had a very good time at Aston Villa," said Olejnik. "It was like being at school in the sense that I learned everything about football and got excellent coaching.

"It wasn't just good for the development of my game, but for my 'human' skills as well and I already know that is something which my new manager cares about very much.

"It wasn't a disappointment to be released from Villa, though. I saw it more as a step forward and the chance to prove myself elsewhere.

"Young players in the Premiership are finding it harder and harder to break through, so this is a fantastic opportunity for me to play regularly and improve further."

Olejnik is well aware of what lies ahead as well. He has kept up to date with the Scottish Premierleague while living down south.

"The SPL is a very competitive league and it's great to be getting involved in it," he explained.

"Everyone, of course, knows all about Celtic and Rangers but there's a number of good teams here and I'm looking forward to playing against them at the big grounds.

"However, my focus is on Falkirk and helping them to finish as high up the table as they possibly can."

And, with international caps for Austria from under 17 to 21 level, he has set himself the personal goal of making it to the European Championship finals – in his home country – next summer.

"That's what I really want to achieve," Olejnik added. "And, first and foremost, if I can do well for Falkirk then it could be a real possibility."