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Saturday 24 August 2019

Lee glee for Mohan as a dozen drop-outs hit Euro bid

Tom Mohan
Tom Mohan

It hasn't been lost on Tom Mohan that he was beginning to resemble Mick McCarthy in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup.

Back then, Ireland's opener against Cameroon was so dominated by the absence of Roy Maurice Keane that McCarthy used a timer in each press conference to mark the first question about the exile.

Sitting on a concrete step yesterday at the rickety Republican Stadium in Yerevan, Mohan too had a sense of what was coming.

When he's to operate at the biggest tournament of your career minus 12 players, anguish gives way to bemusement. At least, he states after a long pause, it wasn't 13.

"I had my heart in my mouth every time the phone rang," he confesses.

Withdrawal

"There was one withdrawal after another. I was then relieved to hear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hadn't taken Lee O'Connor on Manchester United's pre-season tour."

Neither Mohan nor the player know for sure if gentle release requests by the FAI prompted United's decision. It certainly hadn't worked on other clubs fully attuned to the FIFA rules whereby they could decline the pleas in the month of July.

Regardless, O'Connor was perfectly fine heading to Armenia and not Australia.

"I only had a week off between the Toulon Tournament and pre-season training with United," explained the U-21 international. "It went right up to the last minute before knowing I could come here, but captaining Ireland at the Euro finals will be the proudest moment of my career."

Flatter

O'Connor, who says that natural comparisons to John O'Shea flatter rather than annoy him, had been promoted by new boss Solskjaer to the first-team squad for the Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona in March.

It was a season of graduation for the 18-year-old.

He's now been part of an Ireland squad at every level, including seniors, yet his determination to lead by example in Armenia is heightened by his experience of two years ago.

"I went to the Under-17 finals when I wasn't fully fit," he laments. "I wanted to be there but, by the end, hadn't even played a full game.

"This time I'm fully fit and ready."

Derby County winger Festy Ebosele, one of four U-17 players in the squad, will probably replace the suspended Tyreik Wright on the right wing.

France will meet the Czech Republic in today's other game (6.00pm, Irish time).

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