Ovens native Tyreik Wright is ready for the heat — and the heat of battle — in Yerevan, as Ireland’s U19s begin the final countdown for the European Championship Finals in Armenia, with Tom Mohan’s side set to play their first group game, against Norway, on Monday.
“It’s a huge honour to be picked for my country again and to represent Ireland at the European Championships,” says the Aston Villa winger.
Unfortunately, he will have to do just that since suspension for two yellow cards in qualifying means the 17-year-old — who doesn’t turn 18 until September — won’t be in contention to play in the finals until Ireland’s second game, against France, on July 18, before they go on to complete their group fixtures, against the Czech Republic, on July 21.
His absence for the opening game in Armenia further restricts the selection options for manager Tom Mohan who already has to cope with the unavailability of a large number of first-choice personnel, including Spurs starlet Troy Parrott, as a result of clubs opting to retain players for pre-season duty.
“It gives an opportunity to new players to come in and show what we can do and prove to Tom that we’re capable of doing it,” says Wright, who references Ireland’s clean sweep in the elite qualifying phase as a reason for optimism. We won six games out of six with big name players missing for some of those,” he notes.
“We’ll give 100% no matter who is out there. We’re not here to take part. We want to go and win it — 100% we have enough talent. The lads are excellent. We can’t wait to get started and show what we can do. We’re underdogs but we’re confident.”
Hailing from Ovens, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Wright would end up playing football.
“Yeah it’s a GAA place,” he says, “you don’t see many soccer players and a lot of my friends are still playing GAA. I played for Éire Óg, I was good at Gaelic football but shocking at hurling. Around 12 or 13 I made the choice that it was football for me.”
And, of course, he didn’t have to look too far for someone to try to emulate: Ovens’ most famous footballing son, the late Liam Miller.
Reflecting on his tragic passing, Wright says:
“My uncle [Martin O’Leary] was one of his best friends, they played together for Lakewood Athletic and Ballincollig and my mother [Nicola O’Leary] was friends with him too so it was really sad to see. We were all devastated. We went to see his family and it was devastating to see them upset.
“I remember being in the same places as him but I never got a chance to meet him properly. But because of what he did and where he was from, he was someone to look up to and hopefully I can do the same.”