AS the dust settled on his feat of qualifying Ireland for the first U19 European Championship finals in nine years, Ireland manager Paul Doolin will this week start mapping out preparations for the showpiece in Romania in July.
Sunday’s spectacular 3-0 victory over Italy in Poland secured top spot in their elite group and a place in the draw for the eight-nation finals, which takes place tomorrow week in Bucharest.
Joining them will be fellow qualifiers Czech Republic, Greece, Belgium and Serbia.
Romania will be represented as hosts, while the two remaining pools to be contested next week are likely to see Spain vie with England, with Germany and Turkey the chief contenders in group seven.
Kicking off on July 20 until August 1, the finals will showcase some of the finest young talent across Europe and is sure to refresh memories of 1998 when Brian Kerr’s Ireland won the title for the first time in Ireland’s history.
For this year’s squad, Doolin is expected to finalise a couple of friendly matches once the identity of their three group opponents is known.
That will present him the chance to assess his options and gauge if there are players outside the 18 which served him so well in Poland worthy of call-ups for the finals.
Given that club duties prevented Manchester United releasing Ireland captain Robbie Brady along with defensive duo Sean McGinty and Michael Keane for international duty last week, there are sure to be tough decisions ahead when the manager has to settle on his final selection.
Galway native Joe Shaugnessy was one of 13 new faces in the panel from the squad which had progressed from the first qualifying phase last November in Bulgaria.
Recently granted his first-team debut and new contract at Aberdeen, the centre-back grabbed the opportunity with both hands by scoring on his first competitive start on Sunday against Italy.
“Joe is the type of footballer I look for,” said Doolin. “For example, he was a late call-up the night before we departed for a friendly away to Croatia in February. He made it his business to get down to London from Scotland for a 6.30am flight the next morning.
“There was a great closeness amongst this bunch of players from the time we assembled in Dublin nearly a fortnight ago. I didn’t see that level of togetherness for the first phase qualifiers in Bulgaria.”
Sean Murray, the scorer of Ireland’s second goal on Sunday, was due a rest having broken into the first-team at Watford. But the 17-year-old doesn’t mind sacrificing his summer holidays for the prospect of figuring in the finals of a major tournament.
“Making my debut for Watford against Championship winners QPR last month was brilliant and it’s great to finish the campaign by looking forward to playing at the European Championships.
“Playing football at a high level is what I’ve always wanted and here is the opportunity of playing against some of the best international teams in the world.”
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