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Masterson wants old pals at finals

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Conor Masterson of Republic of Ireland in action against Patrick Cutrone of Italy during the UEFA European U21 Championship Qualifier match between Italy and Republic of Ireland at Arena Garibaldi in Pisa, Italy. Photo: Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile

Conor Masterson of Republic of Ireland in action against Patrick Cutrone of Italy during the UEFA European U21 Championship Qualifier match between Italy and Republic of Ireland at Arena Garibaldi in Pisa, Italy. Photo: Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile

Conor Masterson of Republic of Ireland in action against Patrick Cutrone of Italy during the UEFA European U21 Championship Qualifier match between Italy and Republic of Ireland at Arena Garibaldi in Pisa, Italy. Photo: Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile

Ireland U-21 defender Conor Masterson is planning a reunion with pals like Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah at the finals of the European Championships as the QPR man insists that a midweek defeat to Italy has strengthened Irish resolve to qualify for the first time.

A 2-0 loss to an under-strength Italian side in Pisa on Tuesday has put a block in Ireland's path en route to qualification, but wins in the final two group games for Ireland next month, a grudge game at home to Iceland and a finale away to Luxembourg, will keep them in the hunt to qualify as one of the best-placed runners up in the groups, if indeed Italy do go on to win the group.

Players like Connolly, Idah, Jayson Molumby, Dara O'Shea and Jason Knight were unavailable to U-21 boss Jim Crawford as they were on senior duty but Dubliner Masterson is eager to meet up again.

"Stephen has brought up a good few of the lads and, hopefully, in a few years we are all together again, that will be a special moment," says Masterson.

"We are happy for the lads and we want to join them but at the moment we are enjoying the U21 campaign and I am sure if we do get to the finals a few of the lads will come back and play.

"We want to make history, these games, against Iceland and Luxembourg, if we win them we go to the Euros, the first U21s to ever do it.

Ireland's loss in Iceland last year still rankles with the camp. "They got a penalty that was never a penalty, the referee said Lee O'Connor had handled it when it hit his back.

"A few decisions went against us, there was a bit of a bust-up at the end of the game, so we have something to prove against them," says Masterson, aware that Italy will face a battle in Iceland, that game to be played next month after the last-minute cancellation last week following an outbreak of Covid-19 in the Italian camp.