THERE WERE A couple of new faces in the Ireland squad as they trained in Dublin this afternoon ahead of two upcoming friendlies.
After last night’s FAI awards out in RTÉ studios, Martin O’Neill opted to start the week with a light session at the later time of 3pm ahead of a double-header at the Aviva Stadium against Switzerland on Good Friday and Slovakia next Tuesday.
A number of players — Jon Walters, Glenn Whelan, Robbie Brady, Robbie Keane, Shane Long and Harry Arter — sat it out and although O’Neill admitted there were a few “niggling problems”, he said it was too early to know if the players in question could be rated as doubtful.
As well as uncapped trio Alan Judge (Brentford), Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen) and Matt Doherty (Wolves), there was a long-awaited return for Birmingham City’s Stephen Gleeson, who earned the last of his two caps back in 2007.
And while Dundalk number one Gary Rogers was also invited to train with goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh and the three keepers, the inclusion of U21 star Jack Byrne added a welcome injection of youth.
The 19-year-old Manchester City midfielder, who is spending the season on-loan at SC Cambuur in Holland, was given his first opportunity to experience the senior set-up but is expected to link up with Noel King’s U21s for Thursday’s Euro qualifier against Italy in Waterford.
I was speaking to him there and he certainly doesn’t lack confidence,” O’Neill said of Byrne.
“I’ll have to see a little more of him. He might be dumped on his backside by a number of the senior players tomorrow!,” he joked.
The Dubliner is eager to impress after realising a childhood dream and spoke about the importance of self-belief.
It’s something that you dream about doing when you’re growing up as a kid playing football. To be here now and to be in and around it is very nice.
“You wouldn’t want to go out onto a pitch and not think you’re good enough to wear the green shirt of Ireland. I feel as if I’m a good enough and confident enough player that I can affect games wherever I play.”
He added that the Irish player he would have looked up to the most growing up was current captain and record goalscorer Robbie Keane.
“It’s a bit surreal having dinner and looking across to see Robbie Keane sitting at the table. It’s nice to experience that kind of stuff as a 19-year-old kid. My earliest memory would have been the 2002 World Cup when we did so well.”
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