Colin O’Brien has heaped praise on the efforts of his U17 players after a 1-1 draw with Belgium in Tallaght on Thursday saw Ireland fall short of claiming a quarter-final berth in the European Championships.
“We haven’t lost a game in the tournament and there were a lot who probably didn’t expect a lot from these players as well,” says the Head Coach. “So that’s why I can’t give them enough praise, for the improvements we’ve seen from them and some of the good quality from the players throughout the tournament.
“Look at the broader picture: we didn’t win any games but we deserved to get out of the group, definitely warranted it. They’ve been put into so many situations this week - in the games, away from the games, it’s tournament football, it’s 24/7 - and they’ve represented Ireland brilliantly, they really, really have.”
One of those ‘situations’ was the controversial sending off of Festy Ebosele in the game against the Czech Republic in Waterford, an incident which O’Brien says he hopes will bring about a change in the rules governing grounds for appeal and retrospective sanctions for football at this level.
Ebosele was forced to sit out Ireland’s final group game against the Belgians, after a Czech player had wildly over-reacted to what barely passed for a challenge by the Derby County forward, earning the latter a second yellow card and his marching orders.
“I hope it will be a catalyst for change for youth football,” say O’Brien. “They’ll have to look at situations like that in future tournaments because a player suffered and a team suffered on Thursday night. When someone cheats at this level and gets the opportunity to play for his country and our player doesn’t, I think it’s wrong in youth development and I’m still very strong on that.”
O’Brien also suggested that people shouldn’t be too quick to judge the 17-year old Ebosele for throwing off his jersey after leaving the pitch following his red card.
“Ah look, he’s a good kid, just a little bit confused about what happened,” says the Head Coach.
He apologised for his own demeanour when he came off the pitch. I think people need to back off with him on that as well because he’s a young kid and we’ve all done a few things at that age. But what a lot of people didn’t see was him in floods of tears in the dressing room. He’s a good player and he’ll have learned a lot from the tournament as well.
Although the hosts have now left the tournament, O’Brien is encouraging Irish football people to continue to support the European Championships which have now reached the quarter-finals and will climax with the Final in Tallaght Stadium on Sunday, May 19.
“You’re going into the knockout stage now so I think any football person, if this is on their doorstep, you’ve got to go and see these quarter-finals,” says O’Brien. “Especially coaches that are working with those from ages 10/ 11 to 17/18. Those youth coaches, they have to see these games.”