Ireland manager Colin O’Brien is talking about the progress being made by Gavin Bazunu, the precocious goalkeeping talent who joined Manchester City from Shamrock Rovers earlier this year, when he offloads a timely reminder of the still tender years of all the players who are now busily gearing up to represent their country in the U17 European Championship finals which kick off in Dublin on Friday.
“I think you have to bear in mind that Gavin has got his Leaving Cert in June,” says O’Brien. “And we have Joe Hodge (Man City) and Matt Everitt (Brighton) doing the equivalent to that in England.
“Part and parcel of this is where they will have study periods. Joe’s got an exam before the third game and, if the team progresses, Matt will have a few exams.
"They’ll have to do them in an exam centre in Dublin. That’s all taken care of in terms of the operations and the clubs.
England will have a few players in a similar situation. You have to prepare for that as well and make sure they are OK.
Of course, as they settle into their Citywest base for the tournament, the big test dominating the thoughts of the players and staff this week is Ireland’s opening game against Greece in Tallaght Stadium on Friday, followed by a match against the Czech Republic in Waterford next Monday and then the final group game against Belgium back in Tallaght the following Thursday (All 7pm kick-offs).
For the vast majority of the Irish players, the role of host nation means these finals will actually mark their competitive international debuts, a jump into the deep end if ever there was one. So, for O’Brien — who speaks of a mix of “excitement and nerves” in the camp as kick-off begins to loom large — helping to keep feet on the ground and prevent heads from going into a spin is all part of the build-up.
“The main thing alright is they will probably have to balance themselves in terms of controlling their emotions,” he reflects. “That will be a big thing. It’s important they don’t turn into a spectator or a fan — they are players, they are here to play football and prepare for an international tournament.
“We certainly haven’t super exceeded what we are looking for from them. We haven’t overbuilt the occasion. I think they have to stick to their routines, train properly. Everything around the hotel, there will be nothing different this week.
That’s what they have to understand. I know one thing is they definitely won’t want it to pass them by. They will want to grasp the opportunity.
The crisis at the FAI “won’t have any affect on our preparations,” says O’Brien who also insists that, should John Delaney turn up in an official Uefa capacity for any of Ireland’s games, it won’t be a distraction.
“Our focus is going to be on getting the players prepped, getting them into their routine. These are young players, their focus is so clear this week on what they need to do and what they’re trying to achieve. People talk a lot about momentum and trying to get off to a good start, so everyone will be targeting that first game. In the last two years we had great performances in our first games and, though we didn’t get the results, we still managed to get out of the group.
“Going into that last game, that third game, I think a number of groups will be in the melting pot and that’ll start grabbing people’s attention as well. So if we can make sure we’re in that one, that will probably be an objective the players will want to set for themselves.”
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND SQUAD:
Gavin Bazunu (Manchester City), Jimmy Corcoran (Preston North End), Harry Halwax (Derby County), Sean McEvoy (Ballinmallard United), Anselmo Garcia McNulty (Real Betis), Luke Turner (Aberdeen), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Timi Sobowale (Manchester City), James Furlong (Shamrock Rovers), Charlie McCann (Manchester United), Joe Hodge (Manchester City), Brandon Holt (St Patrick’s Athletic), Seamas Keogh (Southampton), Ronan McKinley (Derry City), Sean Kennedy (Sunderland), Festy Ebsoele (Derby County), Matt Everitt (Brighton & Hove Albion), Conor Carty (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Joshua Giurgi (Norwich City).