Kerr seeks right blend
Despite having to rest four players in Monday night's practice game at the AUL complex, Irish under-18 manager Brian Kerr hopes to have his full panel available for this evening's friendly against England in Tolka Park.
Two of this summer's European championship winning team in Cyprus, goalkeeper Dean Delaney and central defender Jason Gavin, as well as newcomers Sean Byrne of West Ham and Leeds United's Kevin Doyle have been suffering from minor injury problems in training since arriving in Dublin last weekend. But Kerr is confident that they will have recovered sufficiently to play some part in this, Ireland's only friendly before the qualifying tournament for next summer's UEFA championships.
Having a full squad to choose from will be important for the Irish management team as they try to find the right blend again. "It's a new team again, the sixth since we've taken over the side," said Kerr yesterday. "And everytime you're looking at a new team and trying to figure out what the various strengths and weaknesses are, any game is important.
The Irish manager insists, however, that there won't be any rash judgments made on the basis of this evening's match. Last season, he recalls, the under-16's were beaten at around the same time of the year by France "and everybody sort of thought we were outclassed.
"That team, with only a couple of changes, went on to win a European Championship in Scotland, though, so you've got to be careful about not writing anybody off too quickly."
The result of this evening's contest, says Kerr, isn't too important to him although he'll realise as he did in Cyprus the importance to the players of not being beaten by a side made up, for the most part, of their club-mates from across the water.
At the European Championships the English came out on top by a goal to nil, employing their superior physical strength to good effect and there is, with so many smaller players in the Irish squad a slight concern that the home side might suffer on that front again tonight.
Kerr, however, points to the technical abilities of players like Richie Partridge, John Frost and Ger Crossley as compensating for the team's shortfalls in other areas and he intends, by giving 16 or 17 of his squad a run out at some stage, to look at a few of his options ahead of next month's competitive outings against Russia, Poland and Cyprus.
The winners of the group, which will be played out in the form of a mini-tournament in Dublin will play Northern Ireland over two legs for a place in next summer's European Championships.
England manager Howard Wilkinson and his assistant David Platt have, meanwhile, some very talented and experienced players at their disposal with nine of the panel that arrived this week currently already having made first team appearances with their English clubs.
Everton striker Francis Jeffers, who made his debut in the St Stephen's Day clash with Manchester United last season, left sided Peterborough midfielder Matthew Etterington, the subject of bids by several major clubs including United, and full back Lee Naylor, a team-mate of Robbie Kenae at Wolves are among the most highly rated of the visiting players.
After this game Wilkinson's side play one more friendly, against Italy in Rome, next month before travelling in November to Tel Aviv for their qualifying games with Israel, Andorra and Spain.