Having watched the epic unfold on television in the squad’s City West base, Irish U17 international Josh Giurgi took an important lesson away from Liverpool’s staging of the ‘Miracle Of Merseyside’ against Barcelona on Tuesday night and, in particular, the fact they pulled it off without any input from two of their most important players, Mo Salah and Roberto Firminho.
“It just goes to show you, you don’t always need the best players,” says the Norwich winger.
“It’s about heart and desire, and Liverpool showed that. All the odds were against them but if you believe in yourself and have confidence in yourself, anything can happen.”
The point is germane because Ireland find themselves going into their defining European Championships group game against Belgium this evening without two of their own key personnel, the suspended Conor Carty and, so controversially sent off late on in the 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic, Festy Ebosele.
That opens the door to a start in Tallaght tonight for Giurgi, who came on as a sub for Carty at the RSC and now promises to “take this as an opportunity to go and express myself”.
Unlike Liverpool, the Irish might not need a miracle to progress but even though a draw could yet be enough to see them through — depending on the result in the other Group A game between the Czechs and the Greeks which has a simultaneous kick-off in Bray — one thing the hosts know for certain is that they will need to produce a top-quality display against the group leaders if they are to secure the win which would guarantee them a place in the quarter-finals.
“After the first game in the group and everyone drew, we knew that it would go to the third game,” says Giurgi, the Irish-born son of Romanian parents.
If we win, we know we are through. If we draw, we are not too sure. So we see this as a cup final for us.
Manchester United tyro Charlie McCann echoes his colleague’s cup final analogy, insisting that treating tonight’s game as win or bust is the right approach.
“You are better off if you go out there thinking you need a win,” he says, “and then if you fall short of a win you’ve got the draw which might get you through. But if you win you know you are going through.”
McCann also thinks that a victory is overdue for the Irish after successive 1-1 draws in their opening two games.
“I think we’ve had two very positive performances so far, we have pushed two good teams and we probably should have won both games,” he says.
“But we will definitely have to push it a bit more against Belgium because they will be the best team that we’ve played so far.
“We feel we have a lot more to come from us and we just want to be able to show it by winning this game. We’ve already changed a lot of people’s opinions that Irish football is a bit basic. We play out from the back, we play through teams and we can pull teams apart when we want to.”
While the lure of the knockout stages means it’s not as if the Irish youngsters need any extra motivation, it’s there to be exploited in the sense of injustice still simmering in the home camp after Greece’s controversial late equaliser in the first game and then the dreadful red card decision against Ebosele in Waterford.
“We should have had a win against Greece and we shouldn’t have had a player sent off against the Czech Republic so it’s added fuel to the fire for us to go out and win,” says McCann.
And we want to win for them (Ebosele and Carty) because if they don’t get the third game they should be getting, it wouldn’t be fair. You never get a second chance to play in this tournament so we need to go as far as we can.
Head coach Colin O’Brien says he always knew the rules prevented an appeal of Ebosele’s dismissal but strongly reiterated his belief that the referee had been conned into showing a second yellow card by what can only be adequately described as the outrageous reaction of the Czech player to the merest hint of contact with the Irish player.
“This tournament is meant to be about the development of young players, so surely that means enabling them to play as many games as possible,” he said.
”If that is the case then why should a young player suffer because of an opponent cheating and an official being misled? Our player, and our team, suffer because of an injustice.
“But our players have not dwelled on that decision, they have switched their focus to the Belgium game, which we know will be a tough test. There is a resilience and togetherness in this group of players, which gives us a great chance of being one of the two teams to make it out of Group A.
We have had fantastic support in our two games so far and we hope that Tallaght Stadium will be rocking tonight. These players deserve to have a strong support behind them and I’m sure that they will respond by giving it everything in what is a huge game.