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‘The nation can now make up their minds about young Irish players and the way they play’

Ireland U17s boss Colin O’Brien praised his side following their Euros exit on Thursday.

Ireland U17s boss Colin O'Brien pictured during last night's game.
Ireland U17s boss Colin O'Brien pictured during last night's game.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

- Paul Fennessy reports from Tallaght Stadium

IRELAND U17S BOSS Colin O’Brien lamented his team’s inability to be more effective in the final third, but also reserved praise for the players, after they narrowly missed out on qualification for the quarter-finals of the European Championships at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night.

Group rivals Czech Republic’s 2-0 win over Greece meant only a win would see the Boys in Green progress to the knockout stages.

Up against a Belgium team who dominated the majority of the contest, the Irish side showed admirable resilience after going a goal down in the second half, equalising through Man City’s Timi Sobowale to set up a nervy final 15 minutes for their opponents.

While they failed to find a winner ultimately and had to settle for a third consecutive 1-1 draw in the tournament, O’Brien took positives from the disappointing outcome, as the Irish youngsters demonstrated good technical ability and composure under pressure for much of the 90 minutes.

“I’m bitterly disappointed that we didn’t find the play for the win, but when you put it into perspective, how the players played for the whole tournament, I think there’s a broader picture there,” the former Cork City player said.

“If you package together some of the play they did in each of the games and if we can just keep adding to it, the future will be bright.

“The players tonight and over the tournament have competed and performed. We played some good football at times, and we want to keep adding and getting better, to improve our decision-making and execution in the final third of the pitch. 

“It was hard. They had a number of entrants into the final third. We defended the goal brilliantly. From my point of view, I thought the players never gave up, defended it, got to the line, covered each other and you have to do that against quality opposition. You’re just not going to have it all your own way. They really knew how to defend the box and you’ve got to give them great credit for that.

“So they’ve learned some great lessons. They’ve been in every game. But the big thing for me is the nation can now make up their minds about young Irish players and the way they play.”

Ireland were missing Man City goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu through injury, while Wolves’ Conor Carty and Derby’s Festy Ebosele were suspended. O’Brien had hoped to successfully appeal Ebosele’s highly contentious red card against the Czech Republic, but attempts to do so proved fruitless.

“Some of our options were taken away from us tonight, some of our key players, so that was a massive thing going into the game. Hopefully, that will act as a catalyst for change for future tournaments and how they handle situations with cheating. And you can see we suffered.”

 O’Brien added that he is hopeful some of these Irish players will eventually go on to thrive at senior level and that competing in this tournament can help with their progress.

“That’s always long-term, I suppose. The next steps with us will be the 18/19s international squads. You can see some of this group have gone up to 21s already. That’s the line we have. If players are doing well in the age groups, there’s an opportunity [at senior level], because our pool isn’t as big [as other countries].

“We’ve got that line together with the other [Irish underage] managers. There’s good communication between us.

There are some very skilled people working in the groups underneath and above me. We all share the same vision on where we want the players and how the players decide to play and conduct themselves away from the game. We’d be on the same page, which is important.

“There’s no guarantee with young players and what you’re hoping is they learn a lot from this. The big progression for them will be back at their clubs.”

The Irish coach continued: “You saw tonight, the press the Belgians did and we still continued to try to find solutions, which they’re being prepped on. It’s how they’re being educated on it. It’s not a shock to me that we played some good football in the games, that’s what we encourage them [to do]. Every team will always have a wobble, but you can see there was courage — they knew about positioning, getting ball speed, how to try to break the lines, it was just that little bit in the final third [where they fell short].” 

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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