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Sunday 20 August 2017

Teacher in Gibraltar squad believes they're learning lessons all the time

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill

LIKE most of the players in the Gibraltar squad for Saturday's Euro 2016 qualifier in Dublin, English-based forward Adam Priestley had a bit of juggling around to do before he could answer his country's call.

It's a long time since an Ireland international had to organise time off from his day job before he could join the squad but that's a regular feature of life now for Priestley and his team-mates.

A part-time player with Farsley AFC who play four leagues below the Football League in England, Priestley has a day job as a teacher so he needed to clear up a few things with work before he was able to head to Dublin.

"I had to sort out work and that is different for most international footballers but it's the norm for us," Priestley, a former Leeds United trainee, told The Herald.

"You need to get time off to play in the qualifiers but it's not a big deal. We would love to have a full squad of full-time pros but that won't happen overnight, we are still a young nation in football terms. It causes a bit of fuss at work in my school. Everyone has been very supportive, the students and the staff and it's something different to talk about in the staff room.

"The kids want to know what it's like to play against Lewandowski, they are all keeping an eye on the Gibraltar games now. Though a lot of them just ask 'Sir, are you going to be on FIFA 2015?'. I usually only let them ask questions after they have done their work," he jokes.

"It's the same at my club, they are excited to have a player from their league at the Euro 2016 qualifiers. It's a long way from Farsley AFC to the Euro 2016 games but I am enjoying the journey."

It's not just a journey for those players as individuals but also for Gibraltar as a football nation. Many have questioned the value of having countries like Gibraltar in the qualifiers for Euro 2016 and there was a blow recently when Sepp Blatter backed the decision to block FIFA membership for Gibraltar.

With a population of just under 30,000 (same size as Co Leitrim) and no playing pitch of international standard, the value of having Gibraltar facing sides like Germany and Poland is questioned - but not by those involved.

"We are a proud nation. We have been fighting for a long time for UEFA to recognise us and now we have to fight for FIFA to acknowledge us," an animated Priestley says.

"People can have their opinions but like all the smaller nations we have to get used to it and deal with it. What we have to do as players is prepare well and put on a good performance every time we take the field.

"Let people say what they want to say but I know that we are a proud nation and we deserve to be here in Dublin," he says, stressing that his own ties to the Rock are firm.

"My dad was in the RAF in Gibraltar so I was born there and lived there for a couple of years," he explains.

"I was always aware of the Gibraltar link, my dad always reminded me that I was born there and that I was Gibraltarian. When I was younger it was nice to be able to tell my friends. And I feel more Gibraltarian since I got involved with the national team. People might look at us and say that we shouldn't be there, they have their opinions on Gibraltar being in the Euros. All we can do is prepare as well as we can and do our best to get a result. We will go and prepare as professionally as we can against Ireland.

"If we go in with the attitude that we're just a Conference side up against a big Premier League team then there's no point in us being there, we have to have the right approach," he says.

A sub in the 7-0 loss to Poland in their opening game, the Farsley player says the side will take on board the lessons from that tie.

"In everything leading up to the game we had prepared as well as we possibly could have and even at half time we were doing quite well, it was only 1-0 at half time and we had given a good account of ourselves. But we had a crazy ten minutes in the second half where they scored four goals and that turned the game on its head, that was a valuable lesson for us, that you can't be complacent when things are going well.

"At this level if you switch off you will get punished so we have learned a valuable lesson and that's something, hopefully, we can take into the Dublin game."

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