EUROPEAN U-21 CHAMPIONSHIP PLAY-OFF FIRST LEG
Republic of Ireland v Israel, Tallaght Stadium, 7pm
Live build-up and coverage on RTÉ2 and RTÉ2 Player from 6.30pm.
Tomorrow will bring a mix of sunny spells and some passing showers in the afternoon. Highs of 15 to 17 degrees in light or moderate northwest winds.
We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
INJURIES AND A WILDCARD
Jim Crawford has navigated a steady course through what is already a historic campaign for Ireland in reaching a European Championship play-off at this age grade, and the head coach has done so with a relatively stable squad selection throughout.
However, untimely injuries have hit the tightly-knit group ahead of the pivotal play-off tie against Israel. Como's Liam Kerrigan was one of the trusted lieutenants on the flanks of the midfield during the last window but a cruciate ligament injury means the Sligo native will face months on the sidelines.
Luca Connell, Mark McGuinness and David Harrington were also confirmed as absentees on Monday with Burnley's Dara Costelloe, NAC Breda's Anselmo Garcia MacNulty and the St Patrick’s Athletic duo of Adam O’Reilly and David Odumosu brought in to fill the places of the quartet. Midfielder Gavin Kilkenny was among those also ruled out before that when the initial squad was named.
But much of the focus in the build-up has been on the inclusion of Aaron Connolly. Almost three years ago, the Galwegian had been fast-tracked from Stephen Kenny's vibrant U21s into the Ireland senior squad after bursting onto the scene for Brighton against Tottenham and it looked like a career trajectory which would be leaving underage international football in the rear view mirror.
That is no longer the case with Connolly at the start of what he hopes to be a fresh start at club level on loan at Venezia in Italy's second tier.
But the 22-year-old's raw talent is undeniable and Crawford will hope that he can prove to be a wildcard for the Boys in Green, although there is an element of risk to the call-up as ex-Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers said on this week's RTÉ Soccer Podcast.
Having acknowledged the need for a recalibration earlier this summer, the player has been saying all the right things about this opportunity with the U21s.
"It's just to show people I'm not taking playing for Ireland for granted," he said this week.
"Maybe some people have had that perception over the last few years. It's a chance to help the Under-21s qualify for their first ever [major] tournament and to show people what I can do."
The Ireland U21 squad
Goalkeepers: Brian Maher (Derry City), Luke McNicholas (Sligo Rovers), David Odomosu (St. Patrick's Athletic)Defenders: Eiran Cashin (Derby County), Festy Ebosele (Udinese), Anselmo Garcia MacNulty (NAC Breda, on loan from Wolfsburg), Andy Lyons (Shamrock Rovers), Jake O’Brien (RWD Molenbeek, on loan from Crystal Palace), Lee O’Connor (Tranmere Rovers), Joe Redmond (St. Patrick’s Athletic), Sean Roughan (Lincoln City)
Midfielders: Finn Azaz (Plymouth Argyle, on loan from Aston Villa), Conor Coventry (West Ham United), Dawson Devoy (MK Dons), Joe Hodge (Wolves), Adam O’Reilly (St. Patrick’s Athletic), Will Smallbone (Stoke City, on loan from Southampton), Ross Tierney (Motherwell)
Forwards: Aaron Connolly (Venezia, on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion), Dara Costelloe (Burnley),Evan Ferguson (Brighton & Hove Albion), Joshua Kayode (MK Dons, on loan from Rotherham United), Ollie O’Neill (Fulham), Mipo Odubeko (Port Vale, on loan from West Ham United), Tyreik Wright (Bradford City, on loan from Aston Villa)
HISTORY MADE BUT MORE ON THE LINE
By getting to a Euro play-off, this crop have already gone where no Irish Under-21s side has gone before. But reaching the final tournament hosted by Georgia and Romania next year would be an outstanding achievement for a generation which already cannot avail of talents like Troy Parrott, Gavin Bazunu, Nathan Collins and Jason Knight, who while still eligible are very much part of Kenny's senior picture.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport back in May ahead of the crucial triple-header against Bosnia, Montenegro and Italy which helped secure second place in the qualifying group, Crawford did not play down the significance of what a major tournament experience would do for the development of this current wave of youngsters, citing the example of his assistant John O'Shea's illustrious club and international career.
"There's no doubt about it we talk to John about those experiences in those Irish teams that did ever so well and how it acted as a springboard for his own personal career," he said.
"It was fantastic and I remember the razzmatazz around the whole country at the time when it was happening. It was fantastic and you'd like to repeat that again and have a really good news story for the Under-21s.
"But certainly from the players' perspective, there's no doubt about it, when you play in high pressure games against top quality European opposition, that's going to help you benefit as a player. It's certainly going to act as a catalyst for you to go and become the best possible player you can."
ISRAEL POSE TRICKY TEST
Of course to get to next summer's showpiece, they will need to overcome Israel over two legs.
While Israel have never played in a European Championship at senior level, past generations of U21s have got to the final tournaments in 2007 as well as 2013 as hosts.
The current crop pipped Poland to second place in their qualifying group to finish behind Germany. The table toppers proved a bridge too far in both games for the Israelis (narrowly one must add in a 3-2 loss in Paderborn and a 1-0 home defeat in March) but aside from those games and a 1-0 defeat in Latvia, Israel were otherwise undefeated.
The four points gained against the Poles in their two games were ultimately decisive.
Tactically, they have often played 4-3-3 across the campaign including against San Marino last time out, while also dabbling with 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1.
With the trip to Tallaght up first, their away record in the group was initially quite good with 2-1 wins in Poland and Hungary, the 3-2 loss in Germany and a routine thrashing of San Marino.
But their most recent loss was to Latvia on the road. Ireland will be hoping they put in a similar performance before the Boys in Green visit Israel for the second leg on Tuesday.
We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences