Conor Shaughnessy believes the Ireland U21 team can provide a much-needed lift to the Irish football scene when they face Germany in a crucial European qualifier tonight.
Noel King’s Ireland U21s trail the leaders by three points with three games remaining, two of which are against the top seeds, meaning defeat would all but end their ambitions of automatically progressing to Italy next year. Second spot, were they to maintain it, could clinch a play-off if it ranks amongst the best four finishers in that spot across the nine groups.
Aside from the result, there is much resting on tonight’s performance.
The doom and gloom accompanying the senior squad’s demise has been pronounced due to the lack of replacements emerging from the younger ranks.
All Martin O’Neill could unleash from the bench during last Thursday’s 4-1 pounding by Wales was Shaun Williams, who made his competitive debut at the age of 31, though Portsmouth’s Ronan Curtis has been drafted int the senior squad for tonight’s game in Poland.
Much of the spotlight has since switched to the FAI’s underage structure heightening the sense of curiosity about how the U21s will fare against the European champions.
Shaughnessy is typical of the modern-day Irish player trying to forge a career. He broke into the Leeds United side last season, playing nine Championship games, before suffering an ankle injury in January against Hull City which sidelined him for the rest of the campaign.
The Galway native is back to full fitness, yet understandably finding it difficult to reclaim his place in the heart of a central defence that has helped them soar to the top of the Championship in his absence. Like many of his peers, and those in the senior squad, assembling a string of games at club level is a difficult task.
Still, the 22-year-old believes the U21s can show fans exactly what’s bubbling away under the surface.
“I’m certain that there are players coming through that are capable of stepping up to play for the senior Ireland squad,” he asserted.
Today’s match against a top-quality said is the perfect opportunity to showcase the talent is in our Under-21 squad.
“We’ve seen Ronan Curtis get promoted to the seniors, something that is a dream of mine too.”
Ireland have never reached a major tournament at U21 level and they’ll have to produce the best result in Noel King’s eight-year tenure to break their duck.
Shaughnessy made his competitive bow this level in last Friday’s 1-1 draw and will retain his place.
Although Shaun Donnellan has returned from injury, his usual partner in defence, Ryan Sweeney, misses out through suspension. “I’ve had to wait for my chance because Shaun and Ryan forced such a good partnership and part of a team which made such a good start to the campaign,” said Shaughnessy, whose older brother Joe, plays for Scottish Premier League side St Johnstone.