Following their heroics in the 2-1 victory against Greece in their UEFA Championship finals opener last Wednesday, the Irish U19 team prepare to face Group A opponents, Czech Republic at the Mogosoaia Football Centre in Romania tomorrow at 5pm, Irish time.
As all of Ireland’s games this season have taken place on foreign soil, this is the first time that Irish football fans will be able to catch a glimpse of the team in action with live coverage of the Group A clash being shown on Eurosport.
While Paul Doolin’s side have been winning over Irish fans following their unprecedented success this season, Irish winger Kevin Knight epitomises everything positive about the squad following his emergence as one of the heroes of the elite qualifying phase in Poland last May.
Despite being released from Leicester City at the end of last season, Knight was a last minute call-up prior to the squads departure to the elite qualifying phase.
Knight grasped the opportunity with both hands and he played a starring role in Ireland’s 3-0 victory over Italy which secured qualification to the finals.
Knight said: “My call-up to the squad last May was a big surprise to me. I literally received the news that I would be leaving with the team the day that they were due to leave but I knew that it was a brilliant opportunity and I was determined to repay the faith shown in me by the manager and I was lucky to come on against Italy and set-up the second goal.
"Last Wednesday’s 2-1 win against Greece was a massive boost for the squad. Greece were one of the favourites for this competition from the outset and to defeat them in the manner in which we did was fantastic.
"However, I expect the Czech Republic to be another step-up from Greece, they looked strong, fast and sharp in their win over Romania but we’re concentrating on our own capabilities and we expect a real tough battle on Saturday.
The Irish winger said his side want to finish as high as they can in the group in order to avoid Spain in the semi-finals.
He said: "The strengths in our own team is definitely in defence and overall organisation while we are always dangerous from set-pieces which was a telling factor in the game against Greece. We have guys here that will put their body on the line for the team. It is that kind of attitude that could separate us from a lot of teams in this competition.
He added: "Recently, people have been asking us what the secret to our success is but the answer is quite simple. We have 18 extremely talented players here and we are more like a big family than a football team. The competition for places is strong but we are all here to support each other which I think is the big difference with this team.
"We have been really surprised about the reaction back home to our win on Wednesday, which is amazing. We are all incredibly proud to represent our country and we hope that we can continue our good run of form for the rest of the competition.”
After leaving Leicester City, Knight has been training with Celtic and Bray Wanderers for the last number of weeks to cement his place in the U19 squad.
Knight said: "I literally haven’t had a break from training since I left Leicester at the end of the season. Since the elite qualifying phase in Poland, I have spent time with Celtic and Bray Wanderers because I was determined to stay in this squad.
"There has been a lot of interest from clubs in England and Scotland but my main focus for the time being is the success of this team.
Republic of Ireland squad
Samir Carruthers - Aston Villa
Matt Doherty - Wolverhampton Wanderers
John Egan - Sunderland
Kane Ferdinand - Southend United
Anthony Forde - Wolverhampton Wanderers
Jeff Hendrick - Derby County
Kevin Knight - N/A
Aaron McCarey - Wolverhampton Wanderers
Sean McDermott - Arsenal
Conor Murphy - Bray Wanderers
Sean Murray - Watford
John O' Sullivan - Blackburn Rovers
Anthony O'Connor - Blackburn Rovers
Joe Shaughnessy - Aberdeen
Connor Smith - Watford
Declan Walker - Wrexham
Eoin Wearen - West Ham United
Derrick Williams - Aston Villa