U-19s afraid of no one: Doolin
Ireland boss confident as side await Euro draw
FRANCE, Germany, Italy, Holland, England, Russia, Portugal, Croatia: read 'em and weep.
Some of the biggest names in international football, and the U19 European Championship finals will go ahead next month in Romania without that lot as they all failed to qualify, while little old Ireland will grace that stage at the finals.
It's a remarkable success story for Paul Doolin and his squad, especially given the quality of the teams who have stood in Ireland's way on the path to qualification (Serbia, Bulgaria, Italy, Ukraine and Poland); considering that Ireland have missed out at this level for so long (the team hasn't reached the U19 finals since 2002), and given that only seven qualifying places for the finals were available for the 53 member states in UEFA.
The Irish boys will know tomorrow (3.30pm) which teams they will face in the finals as the draw will be held in Romania, the host nation for the finals. But having swept past Italy (3-0), Poland (1-0) and Ukraine (0-0) in the last stage of qualifying, none of the other seven finalists (Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Greece, Czech Republic, Serbia and Romania) will cause the Irish side to fear.
"I'm not concerned about who we get in the draw, because we will be up against three decent teams no matter who you get," manager Doolin told the Herald as he prepared to fly out to Bucharest for tomorrow's draw.
"This is a very confident group of players and I don't think there is anyone in Europe they would be afraid of. We're not going to the finals just (to be) happy to be there, we want to get out of the group and see how far we can go.
"We went into our last game in the qualifiers against Italy knowing we had to win to qualify, and we went on to win 3-0 so that shows the level of talent and ability in this group.
"We won that game in the right manner, we were excellent and deserved the win," added Doolin.
"When people look at the teams competing in the finals and don't see the likes of Holland or England or Italy there, they might not think the quality can be that great, but you can only give credit to the seven teams who came through the qualifying, including ourselves," says Doolin.
"UEFA changed the rules from having 16 teams at the finals to only eight. With the hosts qualifying automatically, it makes qualification even harder, for only seven teams to come through is very hard. That's why I think it's an exceptional achievement for us to have qualified.
"We played three games in the elite phase last month and didn't concede a goal, against some very good teams, and I think we're the only team in the tournament who didn't concede a single goal in the elite round.
"We had some very good teams against us: Poland had home advantage in the elite round, Ukraine are former winners of the U19 title and Italy are such a massive football nation, so it was fantastic.
"We had a couple of knocks before we went out to Poland with players who didn't make it, so to go out there and qualify is fantastic.
"We hadn't qualified since 2002 so to get there is a great achievement.
"I was delighted for the staff who had been soldiering on before, the likes of Tommy Connolly and Declan Mahon and people like that."
Doolin has now planned a two-week break for his players as they have just finished their league season with their British clubs (of the squad which won in Poland last month only two, Conor Murphy (Bray) and Roberto Lopez (Bohs), are based at home and still in the middle of their season), and then they will assemble for a mini training camp before the squad meets up for preparation proper on July 10 -- the finals start on July 20.
Some hard calls will have to be made in picking his final squad as Doolin has some frustrating player withdrawals in the build-up, with Manchester United pair Robbie Brady and Sean McGinty missing out -- McGinty stayed in England to play in the FA Youth Cup final.
"You have to wait and see. Some of the players played in the first phase of qualifying back in October so we can't forget about them," said Doolin.
"It's a hard call and I can only wait and see. They are a good group, they had a good camaraderie when we were away last month.
"I'll look at all the options and assess what's best for the team and for the group. It won't be easy, the group who came to Poland did well and deserve a chance but it's a hard call to make.
"The player is always caught up between the club and the national team so I'll have to see how we stand in July.
"You don't know how players will be fixed in terms of pre-season. I'll keep all options open."