Small in stature but seismic in soul, Tierney looks to drive U21s on

With history now in their grasp, Jim Crawford's side focus on the final push with Motherwell midfielder at heart of it 
Small in stature but seismic in soul, Tierney looks to drive U21s on

Thinking time: Republic of Ireland U21 player Ross Tierney during an FAI Fingal County Council TY Graduation at Corduff Sports Centre in Corduff, Dublin. Pic: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

When it comes to sources of motivation, Ross Tierney and his Ireland U21 team don’t have far to look.

Jim Crawford’s Boys in Green have history within their grasp. Wins against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro at Tallaght over the June bank holiday weekend will secure a first-ever Euro playoffs, unless Sweden manage to inflict a shock first defeat on top seeds Italy.

In that unlikely latter event, Ireland still have the cushion of a final game away to the Italians on June 14 to accumulate the point and confirm their runners-up finish.

That encounter in Ascoli could even upgrade into a shootout for the automatic ticket to next year’s finals.

Back-to-back victories over second seeds Sweden either side of Christmas rescued a campaign that looked doomed for Ireland when they drew away to Luxembourg, not the first time the minnow rocked Irish football in 2021.

A spark to reignite the tilt was essential and Crawford deemed the best method in November was reverting to first principles. Players had heard the motivational speeches from luminaries such as their coach John O’Shea, yet management felt it was better coming from their families.

Beaming up on the giant screen inside the Tallaght dressing-room were a catalogue of video messages from parents and siblings, outlining in simple words the pride generated from their representative honours.

“The easy thing to say is it worked because we won the game but I don’t know,” confessed Crawford about a win snaffled deep into injury-time by Ollie O’Neill’s solitary strike.

“As a coach, you must be creative to try find a way that affects everybody. I felt the analysis team put together some heartfelt messages from the families.

“It certainly made me want to get out and play for my country.” 

What was effective then doesn’t necessarily apply in the next scenario. The prize on the line should be sufficient incentive to incentivise his troops, particularly with the 4,000 duo ticket sales so far pointing towards full houses.

“You’re dealing with 20 different characters and while something might work for a group, it mightn’t do it for others,” he explained.

“There’s a caps presentation planned before the first game next Friday so we might get somebody in to chat with them. But the big crowd and the fact they could become the next graduate to the seniors like Adam Idah, Jason Knight or Gavin Bazunu could possibly be enough.” 

Ross Tierney isn’t expecting his father to be overly emotional. A hardy man from Creggen in Derry, related to James McClean, Pius Tierney’s methods are more invested in pushing the boundaries.

His son has been the rising star of the campaign, beginning last year as a late call-up for a friendly tournament in Marbella to starting and scoring in the away win over the Swedes in March. The 21-year-old attacker has similarly soared at club level, moving from Bohemians to Motherwell, whom he scored for against Rangers.

All action: Ross Tierney of Republic of Ireland has a shot on goal saved by Italy goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi during November's UEFA European U21 Championship qualifying group A match between Republic of Ireland and Italy at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin. Pic: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
All action: Ross Tierney of Republic of Ireland has a shot on goal saved by Italy goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi during November's UEFA European U21 Championship qualifying group A match between Republic of Ireland and Italy at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin. Pic: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

His celebration in front of the opposition end of closing his ears was symptomatic of his career and life as a whole. Small in stature but seismic in soul, he’s risen against the odds.

“Coming from Ballymun in Dublin, people always looked down on me and maybe that impeded me from getting into some squads,” Tierney reflected, speaking on his return to the FAI transition course in Corduff he spent a year on during his schooldays.

“It wasn’t just in football. I couldn’t get into some schools because they refused to accept kids from Ballymun.

“My Mam (Alice) argued with them, saying the reason kids don’t get education or end up dropping out is because they kept them out.

“That made me work harder to prove people wrong. There’s a lot of good people from Ballymun, like my former primary school teacher Paddy Christie, who played for Dublin.” 

Tierney also had to rid himself of any inferiority complex when first drafted into the U21s.

“I didn’t think I deserved to be there because I only got called up after my Bohs teammate Dawson Devoy got injured,” he said, “Then I came on against Australia to score the winner. That helped me settle in and I’ve been in every squad since. I’m not the shy lad anymore.”

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