The Irish players celebrate after they qualified for U-17 European Championships. Included are Lee O’Connor, captain (back right) and Darryl Walsh (front left).
The Republic of Ireland Under 17 side were celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day in Cyprus after Colin O’Brien’s side qualified for the UEFA Euro Championship Finals, which will be played in Croatia in May following victories over the Faroe Islands, Slovakia and hosts Cyprus.
After going into the group knowing that a top two finish would be good enough to secure a place in the finals, Ireland made sure of their ticket to Croatia after only two games when they defeated both the Faroe Islands and Slovakia in their first two games.
Waterford duo Lee O’Connor, who captained Ireland in the three games, and Darryl Walsh were part of the 18-man squad for the final qualification series, while FAI Development Officer and Waterford FC Head of Youth Development Gary Power was part of O’Brien’s strong backroom team.
Ireland opened their campaign with a tie against Faroe Islands and they showed a strong performance to overcome their opponents with a dominant show that yielded four goals, two in either half, as the Irish ran out 4-0 winners.
Aaron Connolly, who plays with English Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion, was on target twice for Ireland in the first half that put his side in the driving seat before goals from Adam Idah and Jordan Doherty secured a deserved victory.
A lone goal from Glen McAuley after 66 minutes was good enough to give Ireland victory over Slovakia in the second game of the Under 17 campaign and this win ensured a place in Croatia. A quick counter attack from the Irish saw McAuley steer the ball to the back of the net.
Ireland secured a top place finish yesterday (Monday) as Aaron Connolly scored late in both halves as his side defeated hosts Cyprus by two goals to nil. A great achievement for Ireland and congratulations to them on this fantastic achievement.
Speaking on qualification, Colin O’Brien said, “Throughout the season we’ve been tried to educate them on the functions of the game and on top of that looking at how to address tournament play. It stood to us.
“We deserve this as a group. The players especially deserve this, there’s great willingness to learn and they’ve worked so hard with all of the staff to keep developing as a team.
“People in the game back home, especially involved in the youth game, know there is a lot of good work going on. There’s a lot of talent in the country and the national team doing well shows we’re doing something right with our methods.
“It must be said that there is a lot going on around the country. Coach Education has improved so much in recent years. It’s a great day for everybody who has worked with the players since their earliest days, they began the development and we’ve added our bit onto that.
“Today is about celebrating a very good achievement. They’ll never forget this St Patrick’s Day and it’s a great occasion for their families and friends.”