CHELSEA prospect Conor Clifford feels that the Irish U19 side have the ability to pull off a major shock and reach the European Championship finals.
Sean McCaffrey's U19 side play the third and final game in the elite qualifying round of the Euro finals in Kyiv today, Ireland taking on Bosnia- Herzegovina (4.0pm), knowing that the odds are against Ireland securing top spot in the four-team group and a place in the European Championship finals.
To qualify, Ireland need to beat the Bosnians by four goals or more and hope that current European U19 champions Ukraine beat England.
“Qualification to this summer's finals is very much alive,” said midfielder Clifford, a key figure for Ireland in Friday's 1-0 win over Ukraine. “Obviously we are relying on Ukraine doing us a favour but none of us are thinking about that – we are just concentrating on getting the result we need against Bosnia & Herzegovina.
“I think that getting an early goal will be vital in settling the team into the game. That would put the opposition under pressure and hopefully force a few errors. The Bosnian team haven't had the easiest time of it over here. They haven't come here to make up the numbers, they will be playing for pride and will want to go back home with points on the board.
“In my opinion, Ukraine have an excellent chance in their game against England. Let's not forget that they are the current champions and they will be hoping to advance to the finals in front of their own supporters.
“They are strong, physical and they are very capable of taking the ball down and playing it around on the ground. There are a lot of twists and turns left in this group yet, be sure of that.
“Our result against England, a 1-0 defeat, was a major set-back for all of the players and the staff in the team. “We firmly believed that we should have least got a positive result in that game but that disappointment really spurred us on for the second game against Ukraine.
“The lads were fantastic, we all worked for each other on the field and to get a win against all the odds, especially with 10 men, was indescribable.” Clifford added: “Most of the players in this squad have been playing together for a number of years at international level with some notable success, especially at U17 level.
“Unfortunately, we have had to deal with a large number or withdrawals due to injury and players with other commitments.
“I believe that if we had a full squad we would have qualified but we can still do it. This is a great group of players who have been together for a number of seasons under Sean McCaffrey and his staff, which has been very enjoyable. It would be a fitting tribute for everybody involved to finish the season with an unprecedented place at the European finals.”
CAVAN man Cillian Sheridan endured some tough times last season, but the striker began his summer holidays for real today with a spring in his step and has focused his attention on establishing himself with club and country next term.
It may have been hard for the 21- year-old to select the low point of last season. Maybe playing (and scoring) for the Ireland U21 side as they lost 4-1 in Armenia, but then again, a 2-1 defeat at home to the Armenians in March of this year was a lower point again.
Or maybe it was going out on loan to Championship strugglers Plymouth, rarely starting a game and failing to score in 14 appearances. But there's no doubt that the season finished on a high for the Celtic man as he won two senior caps in last week's friendly wins over Paraguay and Algeria, and Sheridan said he now has a taste for the big stage.
“It was an amazing experience last week, things couldn't have gone much better for me,” he said
“I came over to Dublin at the end of the club season thinking I was just in the Ireland training squad. I didn't expect to be in the senior squad or get capped, but thankfully I got the chance and I was delighted.
“It's been a massive change in fortunes for me in the past few months. I played in the two U21 games against Armenia and we lost 4-1 and 2-1, very bad results for Ireland. My confidence was low after those games, like a lot of the players, especially as my first loan spell last season at Plymouth hadn't gone to plan. I hardly got to start any games there. I didn't score and we were losing a lot of the time, though things did go better for me at St Johnstone when I went there on loan for the second half of the season.
“But after last week my confidence is sky-high, just training with people like Robbie Keane and Damien Duff would have been amazing, but to get two caps was incredible for me, and I want to get more caps now,” he added. “My aim was to come over, do well in training and just show Mr Trapattoni and the staff what I was about, make him at least remember my name for future squads. Players pulled out through injury, I got to stay with the squad and then I got the debut against Paraguay and another cap against the Algerians, I am really made up,” said Sheridan.
He got a chance in the squad as more established strikers such as Caleb Folan, Andy Keogh and Noel Hunt were unavailable, but Sheridan still did enough to catch Trapattoni's eye as he got to play in the two games – more than could be said for Leon Best and Anthony Stokes, who remained on the bench for both international games.
“I know I only got my chance as lads like Caleb Folan were injured, but it gave me an opportunity and I intended to take it. Now I have managed to get into the squad and get two caps,” added Sheridan.
Of course, the man from Baileboro, who became the first Cavan native to win a senior cap when he came on for Robbie Keane against Paraguay eight days ago, is realistic enough to know that he still has work to do before he becomes a regular in the squad.
Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle are established as Ireland's first choice striker pair while Shane Long, Anthony Stokes, Caleb Folan, Andy Keogh and Leon Best are all more experienced with club and country than Sheridan.
“There are a lot of strikers to come back into the squad so I know there's no guarantee I will be in the Ireland senior team for a good while,” Sheridan admitted.
“But it's up to me now, the manager knows who I am and what I can do, and if I can play regularly and play well at club level I have a chance.”
Sheridan didn't play a single game for Celtic last season due to those spells on loan at Plymouth and St Johnstone, and he hasn't started a league game for the Bhoys since December 2008.
“Next season is key for me at Celtic. I am 21 now and I need to be playing every week,” he said. “The plan is to have a good break, go back to Celtic and have a good pre-season and force my way into the team.”