Doolin has U-19 finals in sight
IRELAND U-19 manager Paul Doolin was a happy man after yesterday's UEFA elite qualifying stage draw as he plots a second finals appearance on the spin.
Blocking Ireland's path to reaching next July's Championships in Estonia will be mini-group hosts Portugal, along with Ukraine and Israel.
Ireland will begin their quest to claim the sole qualifying place from the pool on May 26 by meeting Ukraine, before facing Israel two days later and concluding against Portugal on May 31.
Portugal's status as top seeds in the group means Ireland have a task on their hands to usurp one of Europe's foremost nations for producing talent.
But going into the draw as third seeds, Doolin was relieved to have avoided the likes of Spain, France, England and Italy.
He said: "The draw could have been a lot worse. Logistically, Portugal is great for us and we've gained confidence from qualifying through our last four groups at U-19 level.
"Ukraine in the first game is a tough one and getting something from that is the priority. Only the top team qualifies, so it's very difficult to recover from losing the opener."
Doolin can call upon seven members of the squad from last season that he led to Ireland's first appearance at the U-19 finals in nine years.
The U-17 elite phase was also drawn yesterday and saw Ireland grouped with the Netherlands, Serbia and Albania. As title holders, the Dutch will be fancied to emerge from the group they host from March 22-27 and make the finals in Slovenia in May.
Next season's draws for the first-phase qualifiers also took place. The U-19s are in Luxembourg in October 2012 for a mini-group with Germany, Macedonia and the hosts while, in the same month, the U-17s take on hosts Macedonia, as well as Romania and Sweden, for the two berths into the elite qualifying stage.