Ireland U21s boss Jim Crawford (file pic). Ryan Byrne/INPHO

'It’s a really difficult situation' - Several Ireland U21 players still in limbo over travel for important qualifier

Brian Maher says the team must focus on Friday’s home encounter with Luxembourg amid doubts surrounding next Tuesday’s match in Montenegro.

IRELAND U21 goalkeeper Brian Maher insists the squad are focused purely on Friday’s home match against Luxembourg amid doubts surrounding several players’ availability for next week’s clash away to Montenegro.

Montenegro is currently on the UK and Germany’s red list, meaning players based in those countries, as it stands, have to quarantine before returning if they were to make the trip. 

Consequently, Irish boss Jim Crawford took the unusual step of naming two squads, with 15 home-based players added for the Montenegro game should they be needed.

The FAI remain hopeful that a relaxation of the rules will allow all players from the original Luxembourg squad to travel to Montenegro, but the situation remains up in the air at the time of writing.

Bray Wanderers goalkeeper Maher, who is set to be available for both games irrespective of how the situation develops, admits it is far from an ideal scenario.

“It’s a really difficult situation and maybe one we all don’t understand. It’s above us. It’s out of our control completely and of course, you’d hope to have all the lads but we’re just waiting to see if there’s any update.”

He continued: “It’s honestly not something that’s been talked about in the group as it’s not the first game and it’s all out of our control at the moment because it’s what’s going on in the UK and we have… not tried to not speak about it, there just hasn’t been any talk about it because we have the game on Friday first and that’s been the focus. When Friday is finished, we’ll talk about the Montenegro game if there is an update.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of senior international Callum Robinson recently confirming he had not been vaccinated, Maher was asked for his own thoughts on the matter.

“It’s everyone’s decision. I know everyone will have different reasons for getting it or not getting it. There are loads of factors to it and some people will just get it straight away and some people won’t. From my perspective, I obviously don’t know a whole lot about it so I just keep my own opinion and let everyone else make their own decision.”

And is it a topic that’s discussed much in the changing room?

“Not really, to be honest. It’s not something that we talk about.

“Honestly, I don’t even really read a lot of the stuff about vaccinations because there is a lot you can read with social media and you can read two totally opposite things side by side so you don’t really know what to look at. I had my own decision based on my own surroundings and people around me so after that, it doesn’t really bother me. As I said before, it’s everyone’s decision, including myself, that I had mine.”

Maher also disagreed with Galway boss John Caulfield, who was highly critical of the decision to select a backup squad comprised of home-based players in an interview with RTE’s Saturday Sport.

“I don’t think there’s any slight on any of the players. Any player that has come in has been excited. It’s one of the proudest moments that you can have to be called up for Ireland so my opinion is ‘no’ [in relation to Caulfield's comments]. Everyone has come in the same as they would before, with real excitement and pride, chest out and buzzing to be here.”

The Irish side picked up four points from their opening two qualifiers against Bosnia and Luxembourg, and the Boys in Green will be hoping to improve on a disappointing draw with the latter in Dudelange when the sides meet again at Tallaght Stadium on Friday.

“We gave away a goal we weren’t happy with [in Luxembourg] but we’re not that disheartened by it. We’re in good spirits and we’re back in Tallaght now for the first time in nearly two years with home fans. So it is just looking forward to putting it right and getting them three points if we can. Then we’ll think about going away to Montenegro.”

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