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Under 21s determined not to lose focus insists O'Shea

Euro qualifier: Italy v Republic of Ireland (Pisa, Tonight 5.0)

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Ireland players (l-r) Darragh Leahy, Zach Elbouzedi, Dara O’Shea and Gavin Bazunu

Ireland players (l-r) Darragh Leahy, Zach Elbouzedi, Dara O’Shea and Gavin Bazunu

SPORTSFILE

Ireland players (l-r) Darragh Leahy, Zach Elbouzedi, Dara O’Shea and Gavin Bazunu

West Brom defender Dara O'Shea says the Ireland U-21 squad are determined not to lose focus on their task of qualifying for the European Championships despite the Covid-related drama which played havoc with a number of fixtures last week.

The Irish panel are in Italy to play the Italians in Pisa tonight, where a win would put Jim Crawford's side six points ahead of Italy and well on course to qualify for the first time.

Italy's game in Iceland on Friday was called off just before kickoff after three members of the Italian squad, including two players, tested positive for Covid-19 but they have since returned to Italy and are preparing to face Ireland.

The Republic's plans for the Euro 2020 playoff in Slovakia were severely disrupted as Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah were unable to play, having been deemed close contacts of an FAI staff member who tested positive.

That duo's pals in the U-21 panel were unsure if the Italy tie would be played and defender O'Shea admits the build-up was not easy.

"It's been a bit up in the air, especially when we heard the news [of Italy quarantine in Iceland] but we've just been preparing as if we are playing a game.

We've stuck to everything as normal. We flew out two days ago, we are settled in and we trained yesterday," the Dubliner said from Pisa.

"Everyone is preparing as normal, as at the end of the day we know we're playing Italy on Tuesday and we have to focus on ourselves. I think it's just the times we live in now.

"Everyone has got to come to the conclusion that we have to accept it and that we have to try to make ourselves safe and put each other in safe positions.

"Obviously everyone in the camp understands that there's a high possibility of that [positive test], but you can't dwell on it too much, you've still got to prepare right, you've got to do the things that you've been doing previously.

"But at the back of your mind, you have to remember to keep yourself safe and keep everyone around you safe," he added.

O'Shea, who has impressed in his debut Premier League season with the Baggies this term, says the Irish side are able to deal with the burden of expectation that comes with being top of the table with three games to go.

Pressure

"I don't think there's a pressure as such. Us ourselves as a group, we know what's there for us, what's at the end of the road, and that's qualifying for the European Championships, which hasn't been done before, so we're making history if we do," the former St Kevin's Boys player said.

"That in itself is a massive incentive for the players. Obviously laying for your country is one thing, but having that little treat at the end - if you do qualify, you make it to the European Championships - is massive and I don't think any player would back down from that.

"So I don't really feel there's pressure on us as such. I feel like maybe there's pressure on individuals, but I don't feel like there's pressure on the team as such."

The Dubliner comes into the international window on the back of good form with his club under Slaven Bilic, in the top flight.

"From a young age, it's always something you want to do and I suppose when I signed for West Brom, my goal was to make it into the first team and play there," he added.

"Obviously for us to get promoted last season from the Championship to the Premier League was massive and it's dream come true for me and I suppose any young lads as well.

"It's always something that you have to have in the back of your mind. If you're going to play at the highest level, you have to be ambitious and obviously I'm grateful to be where I am now."