New breed are eager to impress in Andorra clash
IT'S NEW campaign, with new faces, and a chance for Ireland's newest batch of U21 hopefuls to show that they can move up the ladder to the senior stage.
Even though the finals of the 2015 European Championships have yet to be played, qualification for Euro 2017 at U21 level gets underway for Ireland tonight, Noel King's side taking on Andorra in Waterford (7.45).
With some players yet to make their Ireland debuts (new recruits Callum O'Dowd, Shamir Goodwin) and other still to play in a competitive game at U21 level, the Andorra qualifier is a new chapter and for Preston midfielder Alan Browne, the long-term goal - apart from qualification - is to win the attention
of senior team bosses Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane.
And with O'Neill and Keane both planning to attend tonight's game, former Cork City man Browne believes that the duo won't be disappointed.
"It's tough to get into the seniors at the moment, and not many have made the leap to the seniors from the U21s in the last while," says Browne, who scored on his U21 debut in a friendly defeat to Norway last year.
"That's why we are here, to use this campaign to do well in our careers, to prove ourselves at U21 level and if we can do that we might get a chance with the seniors.
"Hopefully the senior management will get down to see the game, I know they were at a few of our U19 games last year and it would give us a lift to see them there tonight.
"There is great talent in this squad. A lot of us are playing in League One, like Conor Wilkinson going on loan to Oldham from Bolton. If people do come along to see us, I'd like to think we can make it worth their while." Browne, still only 19, has already been talked up as a player of real potential.
Ex-Ireland man Kevin Kilbane, a former Preston player, tipped Browne to become a major figure in the near future while his current club-mate, Gibraltar international Scott Wiseman, told The Herald last year that he would bank on Browne becoming a senior international.
"It was nice to hear comments from people like Kevin Kilbane but I won't let it get to me, I just focus on my own game. Kevin and Scott said what they said for a reason and it's up to me to prove them right," says Browne. He had made big strides at Preston after that move from Cork, but Browne has dropped of the radar of late in a promotion-chasing Preston side and his last league start was in Christmas week.
"I was involved a lot at the start of the season but the gaffer has changed it around in the last while and gone for more experienced players," Browne explains.
"I can't really complain as the team have done really well, up to second in the table, so I have to bide my time and wait for my chance."
A lot of patience is required to keep up to date with this Irish U21 side. Tonight's game in Waterford is their first competitive game in over six months, is the first home match in more than a year, and after this evening's game boss King has to wait until next September, and a trip to Andorra, for the next qualifying match.
Injury has denied Niall Keown the chance to make his first appearance in the green shirt but oplayers like Sean Kavanagh (Fulham), Tommie Hoban (Watford) and Conor Wilkinson (Oldham) have a chance to bring club form onto the international stage.