herald

Saturday 21 October 2017

German blood but green heart for Bundesliga's Irish goalkeeper

WITH German blood but an Irish heart, an Ireland U21 goalkeeper will watch his native country play in Gelsenkirchen tonight and pray for an Irish win, writes Aidan Fitzmaurice.

Born and bred in Germany and with a long stint on the books of Bundesliga side Karlsruhe on his CV, Justin Merz (right) should be supporting Joachim Loew's side. But only a few months back, Merz was standing for Amhrán na bhFiann and went on to make his Irish U21 debut against Qatar in a friendly played in Germany.

"I can't make it to the Veltins Arena for the game but I will be watching on TV," Merz told The Herald.

"And I will be wearing a green shirt for Ireland and not a white one for Germany, I want the Irish side to win.

NOT SO GOOD

"And I think Ireland will win. The German defence is not so good now. They really miss players like Lahm, and I can see a 2-1 win for Ireland."

The story of Merz's connection with Ireland began five decades ago when his Dublin-born maternal grandmother met a German native, fell in love and moved to Germany.

As the young keeper made his way through the ranks of the Bundesliga - Merz was born in Stuttgart and recalls the time when former Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni was manager of the city's Bundesliga side - the FAI were alerted to his availability.

Merz was brought in to train with the U21s earlier this year and did enough to warrant a place in the squad proper, Noel King naming him in a squad for a friendly against Qatar which was played in Germany (Aachen) in May.

"I was very happy to play for Ireland that day and even better, the game was played in Germany. It was a strange experience for me to stand for the Irish anthem in a game in Germany.

"But I was very proud to play that day and I know it made my family proud too."

Merz is now overage for U21 level so, for things to progress at international level, he will have to move things on club-wise.

He was attached to the second team of Karlsruhe for the last few years but he has since left the club and is a free agent.

"I hope to get to Britain or maybe even Ireland to find a club," he says. "Maybe not the Premier League in England but possibly the Championship, or the club in Ireland. I have heard about Shamrock Rovers from Alan O'Neill, the goalkeeping coach with the Irish U21 team so maybe they need a keeper for next year," he added.

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