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Ireland U19s on the cusp of history but face toughest test yet in Euro semi-final

Tom Mohan’s side are one game away from the final, with defending champions Portugal standing in the way this afternoon.

Ireland U19 manager, Tom Mohan.
Ireland U19 manager, Tom Mohan.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

TOM MOHAN IS out to replicate the successes of Kerr’s Kids in 1998 when Ireland take on Portugal for a place in the final of the U19 European Championships this afternoon [kick-off 3pm, RTÉ 2].

Ireland memorably lifted the title 21 years ago when it was known as the Uefa European Youth Championship.

Having reached the final four twice since then — in 2002 under the stewardship of Brian Kerr and then again in 2011 while Paul Doolin was in charge — Mohan now has the chance to write some history of his own against the Portuguese.

“It is a tremendous achievement by the players to reach this stage and they deserve a huge amount of credit in being one of the final four teams,” the 45-year-old said ahead of the match.

However, we are not content with that as there is a place in the final up for grabs and we will do everything that we can to take that.

“We have an extra incentive when it comes to motivation to reach the final as the players, and staff, want to do it for both Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi, who are both suspended for our semi-final with Portugal.

“It is really disappointing for the two lads, who have been outstanding in every game for us, so we want to collectively do what we can so that Lee and Jonny get to play in the final.”

Barry Coffey came off the bench to score a late winner against the Czech Republic and guarantee Ireland’s progression through to the knockout stages as Group B runners-up.

Barry Coffey Barry Coffey scored the winner for Ireland against the Czech Republic. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Despite narrowly losing to France following a 1-1 draw with Norway in the opener, Mohan says they are relishing the chance to play the best teams in the tournament.

“We are fully aware of the threat that Portugal pose,” he added. “They won the tournament last year and we’ve seen their Elite Round qualifiers and their games in Armenia.

There is no question that they are one of the strongest teams in this year’s tournament and we will have to produce another massive performance to match them, but this group of players are not fazed by anyone and we have a lot of strengths too.

“One of the most pleasing aspects of this tournament so far has been the courage of the players to get on the ball whilst under pressure and adapt to playing against the different styles & systems of our opponents.

The strength of our squad has been hugely important as everyone is making a valuable contribution. A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes, in terms of recovery and preparation, so we feel that we are ready for this game.

“The players have already done magnificently to reach this stage, but we want to go one better and get to the final now.”

Afolabi, Coffey and Joe Hodge have scored Ireland’s goals up to this point and the Irish frontline will need to be razor sharp to penetrate the Portuguese rearguard.

Tomorrow’s opponents conceded no goals in the Elite Round qualifying series and just one since the start of these finals. 

After beginning their tournament with a 3-0 win over Italy, the defending champions drew 1-1 with Spain and then went on to hammer hosts Armenia 4-0. 

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