Colin O’Brien has cited the decorated career of John O’Shea to illustrate how much of a springboard the U17 European Championship finals can provide for his current squad.
The Corkman has led his side to a second quarter-final in a row and tonight at Chesterfield’s Proact Stadium they meet a Netherlands side tipped to lift the trophy on Sunday. Irish fans can watch the young stars as RTÉ 2 are broadcasting the game live.
Ireland will need to produce their best display of the season to cause a shock but, whether they make the semi-final or not, O’Brien has pointed to the experience gained as crucial to their long-term career prospects.
The market these players operate is much changed from the version O’Shea and his squad colleagues entered after winning this tournament 20 years ago.
A dozen of the 18-player panel went on to feature for their clubs in the top two tiers of English football or the Scottish Premier League.
Recent history suggests it will constitute a feat for even half of that figure to do likewise in the modern environment.
Manchester United gave O’Shea that opportunity in the first-team and, in the letter to fans announcing his upcoming retirement from Ireland fold following his 118th cap against USA, the Waterford man was eager to highlight the youth triumph for his country as the trigger to the success which followed.
For all the strides made by this current Ireland team, it doesn’t provide any guarantees for their players on the club front.
Still, O’Brien believes their employers should take notice of their progress in the green jersey.
“I would like to think that our players operating at the highest level of international football like this matters to their clubs,” said the Ireland manager.
“John O’Shea, who has had an outstanding career for club and country, mentioned the fond memories he still has of playing at this tournament.
“The football market is a tough business. We’ve got some players at Premier League and Championship clubs but they can sign others from anywhere around the world.
“That’s what our players are competing with. They knew that before joining their clubs and it’s a massive challenge.
“I’ve worked in youth development for a long time now and always feel there’s potential.
“We’ve produced a lot of good players in recent years.”
It will be interesting, therefore, to see how they fare against a side laced with quality.
The Dutch got to give a rest to several of their star tyros in Friday’s win over Serbia, a game O’Brien attended.
They, along with the suspended striker Daishawn Redan, will be back in the team fresh and intent on adding Ireland to their list of casualties.
Boys in Green captain Nathan Collins doesn’t mind his team being classed underdogs.
“I believe once we take the chances, we’re capable of beating any team,” insisted the centre-back.
“I played against Holland at U15 level two years ago when he pushed them close in a 2-1 defeat.
“We know they’ll be a good team but we’ve to concentrate on ourselves. It’s a case of doing what we’re good at.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved