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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 20 September, 2019
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‘My family are flying out from Cavan to Armenia for the semi-final. The sky's the limit’

Oisin McEntee looks ahead to Ireland’s U19 European Championships semi-final against Portugal.

OISIN MCENTEE IS not one to shy away from responsibility, especially on the big occasions.

Outlining the philosophy of Total Football, Johan Cruyff famously said the game should be played fluidly and that each outfield player should know the ins and outs of every single position — and be able to perform and excel outside of one’s comfort zone.

Oisin McEntee goes in goal after Jimmy Corcoran was sent off The Cavan defender goes in goal after Jimmy Corcoran was sent off against the Netherlands. Source: Simon Stacpoole/INPHO

A striker should know exactly what the left-back’s duties are and your right winger should also be able to slot in at central midfield when the pattern of play requires him to do so. Totally fluid.

That philosophy was pushed to its limit and inverted last summer when Ireland U17 goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran was cruelly sent off against the Dutch during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals of the European Championships.

Needing someone to fill in between the sticks in the most extraordinary of circumstances, young Cavan defender McEntee stood up to the plate and took his team-mate’s place.

“At the start of the tournament our manager Colin O’Brien asked would I be the player to go in goal if a goalkeeper got sent off or injured,” he explains. “So I just said yeah. We kind of knew what to do when Jimmy was sent off against Holland.”

The Netherlands would prevail on spot-kicks 5-4, ending Ireland’s incredible journey to the last eight in the most bizarre circumstances which even saw Martin O’Neill storm onto the pitch to have a few choice words with the referee who had sent Corcoran off.

Oisin McEntee Newcastle and Ireland U19 defender Oisin McEntee. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

McEntee has let the past go, however. The teenager recalls happy memories of last summer’s endeavours at the U17 Euros and says the experience has only fuelled his desire at this year’s U19 competition in Armenia, where Ireland have made it to the semi-finals.

“I’ve good memories of the U17 tournament last summer, to be fair. It ended on a low but I think we did ourselves proud and we did everyone back home in Ireland proud,” the Newcastle defender says.

There’s not much we could have done about the decision. I really loved that tournament. I love this tournament, too. It’s just a class atmosphere to be in. You’re playing against the top teams in Europe, so you’re just buzzing for every single game.”

Tom Mohan’s U19 side drew with Norway, lost to France and overcame Czech Republic in the group stages to make the final four, where they face the might of defending champions Portugal this afternoon at 3pm — a side which features a number of promising young Benfica and Sporting Lisbon academy stars.

Ireland went into Sunday’s showdown with the Czechs knowing a draw might have been enough, but that a win would ensure their passage through to tonight’s semi’s. A brilliant individual finish from Jonathan Afolabi and another from Barry Coffey got the job done, as the Boys in Green prevailed 2-1.

Oisin McEntee McEntee will play with Newcastle's U23 side in the Premier League 2 this season. Source: Ryan Byrne; ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’m just over the moon,” McEntee says on making it through to the semi-finals of a European Championships. “If we had of lost, we would have been flying home on Sunday night, so I’m just buzzing to get to stay and still be a part of the tournament.

“It definitely is a massive achievement. You’re one of the top four teams in Europe at this age level, so it just shows how far we’ve come. The Czech Republic were very good, they pressed very high and they were strong players and had their tactics to press us. At times they could play, so they were a decent side.

Since we already had two games under our belt [against Norway and France] we felt confident in each other. We knew that we had to win, so we were just going to play to our best abilities. Everyone was confident.

“We didn’t have a clue what the score in the France-Norway game was. When the Czech Republic equalised to make it 1-1, we were all gutted. We did well to get another goal to secure the win.

“We didn’t have a clue about the other game so it was a weird situation to be in. The mood in the dressing room afterwards was class though. Everyone was absolutely buzzing, because it just showed how far we’ve come as a group and how much we’ve worked to get here.

“It was a quiet night in after we won,” McEntee laughs. “We couldn’t walk after the game — we were wrecked. We played a bit of PS4 and watched a bit of Netflix and went to sleep. It was hot on the night as well. There was just a lot of running and taking a lot of hits. So yeah, I’m feeling it now this morning.”

The defender was born in New York, grew up in Cavan, and showed a lot of promise as a gaelic footballer. His father, who also acted as his manager, played at inter-county level. But McEntee was always going to choose football when push came to shove.

When I was U8s and U10s, I would have played soccer to just keep me fit over the winter, but it kinda got serious when I was 12, when I went up to Derry for the Foyle Cup and a Manchester United scout [Walter Murphy] saw me and asked me to go over,” he told The42 earlier this year.

“My dad saw there was potential. My mam would have been the soccer one in the house, but now they both love it, to be fair. It was hard for me leaving gaelic, because he was the manager and all the kids parents were asking: ‘Why is he not playing’ if I had a big soccer game on. He’d have to explain.

“I played with Shercock, my club, and then my school, there was no county level at that age group. My school [Patrician High School in Carrickmacross] was a big gaelic school so I had to play a lot there. I just played with school and a bit of club, I was all over the shop before I went over [to England].

“I went over when I was 12, I support Man United as well, so it was class. From playing with Carrick Rovers and playing gaelic football, going over there was mad.”

He has now settled at Newcastle and is relishing the opportunity to play at such a high level alongside his international exploits with Ireland. McEntee mixed U18 and U23 football last season, notably scoring on his debut in a 4-2 victory against West Brom, and will make the step up to play ‘Premier League 2′ football this campaign.

“It’s class,” he says. “It’s one of the best leagues in the world, so I feel that playing week-in, week-out with the U18s or the U23s it just helps me a lot. Last year I was mixing it with both teams and this year I’ll be with the U23s fully.

It’s just football every day and you just get so used to playing football, and all you think about is football 24/7. That’s what I wanted when I was younger and I have it now.”

He says Ireland have nothing to fear against Portugal later this afternoon. Tom Mohan’s side were the first team in the entire continent to qualify for the Euros and did so when giants like Germany, England and even old-foes Netherlands failed to do so.

Sunday’s dramatic win against the Czech Republic has the entire group on a high, but making it through to the semi-finals has come as no major shock to those on the inside. This Ireland team is well capable of competing alongside the very best, he says.

Republic of Ireland v Belgium - UEFA European U17 Championship - Group C - Loughborough University Stadium Ireland face Portugal this afternoon in the semi-finals of the U19 European Championships. Source: Nigel French

“It definitely is going to be a big challenge against Portugal on Wednesday, but I feel if we just set up right and get our tactics right, we can match them. We don’t have bad players in this group, so I’m looking forward to the game. My family are flying out from Cavan to Armenia for the semi-final. I told them I’d bring them over — it’ll be class to have them there.

I feel that with our team and the manager, we all back ourselves against the best teams in the world. Most Irish teams do [back themselves] now and I think that’s the right attitude to have, because we have good players, we have good coaches.

“There’s no reason why we can’t play against the best and be the best. The sky’s the limit with Tom, and we’ll be confident going into the Portugal game. Everyone woke up today buzzing and now we just can’t wait.”

- Ireland’s Uefa U19 European Championships semi-final against Portugal kicks-off at 3pm Irish time and will be broadcast live on RTÉ 2

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Aaron Gallagher

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