Ireland under-17s prepare for unknown as tournament kicks off
Under-17 European Championships begin in Tallaght with clash against Greece
Head coach Colin O’Brien Photograph: ‘If you looked at some of the results you mightn’t think that we’ve been doing that great but we have focussed very much on certain objectives.’ Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Colin O’Brien admits that he really does not know how his young squad will react to making their collective competitive debut in Friday’s opening game of the Under-17 European Championships in Tallaght but the Ireland manager insists that they have not actually been disadvantaged by qualifying for this year’s finals as hosts.
Ireland have qualified then made the knockout stages of the tournament for the past two years running and only lost out last year to eventual champions the Netherlands on penalties after a run that generated a fair bit of excitement about young striker Troy Parrott. O’Brien was still hoping, as he named his squad yesterday, that the 17 year-old Dubliner will be made available by Tottenham for this year’s competition.
The hosts go into the event with three wins from seven friendlies this season and while O’Brien insists he is unconcerned about the mix of results, he does admit that the fact his players will be experiencing competitive international football for the first time on Friday adds to the unpredictability of the situation.
“Everybody has that mixture of excitement and nerves,” he says as the squad gathers for the tournament in which Ireland face group games against Greece, the Czech Republic and Belgium.
“It has all been a little bit different because of us being the host nation but we’ve sort of flipped that on its head a bit. We’ve looked at a lot of players this season, we’ve used at a lot of players. We’ve probably been able to go a little bit deeper into our preparation and objectives when we’ve had the group in for games and it’s also been to our advantage in terms of operations and logistics, we’ve been able to play for that.
“If you looked at some of the results you mightn’t think that we’ve been doing that great but we have focussed very much on certain objectives. We’ve tested ourselves against teams that we anticipated might be here or who we felt might reach the elite phase.
“The competition does different things to each individual, though,” he continues. “The first game will be a new one for them so how they handle that is always a bit of an unknown.
The Irish have lost to both the Czechs and Belgians over the course of the season but O’Brien suggests that neither side would be reading too much into tight games in which he believes the actual were slightly secondary considerations.
He is hoping for a strong start against the Greeks in Tallaght on Friday so as to avoid mounting pressure in the final two group games but he is well aware a tight these things can be with just one win enough to get Ireland through two years ago when Germany completely dominated their group.
Pretty much all of the continent’s traditional big guns have qualified for the event and the Irish will face England, France, Sweden or Holland if they progress. Their chances of doing that, though, will be easier to gauge after we see whether group stage tournament football comes naturally to them.
Gavin Bazunu (Manchester City), Jimmy Corcoran (Preston North End), Harry Halwax (Derby County); Sean McEvoy (Ballinmallard United), Anselmo Garcia McNulty (Real Betis), Luke Turner (Aberdeen), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Timi Sobowale (Manchester City), James Furlong (Shamrock Rovers); Charlie McCann (Manchester United), Joe Hodge (Manchester City), Brandon Holt (St Patrick’s Athletic), Seamas Keogh (Southampton), Ronan McKinley (Derry City), Sean Kennedy (Sunderland), Festy Ebsoele (Derby County); Matt Everitt (Brighton & Hove Albion), Conor Carty (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Joshua Giurgi (Norwich City)
Three to watch
Gavin Bazunu (Manchester City)
The young goalkeeper made a lot of headlines last summer after being bumped up to the Shamrock Rovers first team where he kept four straight clean sheets and pulled off a spectacular penalty save in Cork.
He has since departed for Manchester where he is said to be doing well, working towards his Leaving Cert and competing with the English number one for a place in the Under-18 side.
Seamas Keogh (Southampton)
Has had something of a meteoric rise over the last few seasons having graduated from Benbulben FC to Sligo Rovers to Southampton who he joined last summer.
Has settled in well and made solid progress at club level while but is well established within the international having previously captained the Under-16s. Along with Manchester City’s Joe Hodge, the versatile midfielder is an influential presence for Ireland in the centre of the pitch. Cites Jeff Hendrick’s style of play as an influence.
Matt Everitt (Brighton and Hove Albion)
The left winger is one of very few English born players in the squad. He is quick, can contribute from set pieces or play and, when Ireland were winning games more regularly early on in the season, he chipped in with a few goals.
Perhaps his best, though, was a diving header in the 4-1 defeat by Germany. The hope will be that he can continue to deliver on the threat he poses over the coming 10 days.
Friday, May 3rd: v Greece, Tallaght Stadium (7pm)
Monday, May 6th: v Czech Republic, RSC Waterford (7pm)
Thursday, May 9th: v Belgium, Tallaght Stadium (7pm)