Irish lead Aston Villa to brink of Euro glory
An Aston Villa under 19 side brimming with Irish talent is just one game away from winning the NextGen series in Italy.
The competition, which is seen as a Champions League for under 19 teams, attracts sides from all the biggest clubs in Europe. After a campaign which has seen Aston Villa dispose of Olympiacos, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax along the way, they now face Chelsea tomorrow in the final.
And it was three goals from Irish players in Friday night's semi-final victory over tournament favourites Sporting Lisbon that secured their spot in the decider. Goals from Jack Grealish and captain Samir Carruthers in extra-time gave Aston Villa a 3-1 win, after Graham Burke's penalty in normal time secured a draw.
"We stuck to the game plan in the first half," explained Carruthers. "We didn't play the greatest but we showed quality in the second half and in extra-time as well. We finished them off in extra-time with the quality we have in our team."
Along with Carruthers, Grealish and Burke there have been four other Irish players involved in Villa's campaign so far. The team's top scorer Mickey Drennan missed out on playing this weekend through injury, while Derrick Williams, Danny Devine and Kevin Toner all played in earlier rounds.
"There is a good bond with the Irish guys but the team has great team spirit anyway. That's what you need in a good team, when everyone is happy with each other and everyone gets on well, then they will work hard and play well together."
Carruthers has played for the under 19 and under 21 Republic of Ireland team and says that having a strong Irish contingent at Aston Villa has encouraged him to do well on the international scene.
"Players like Shay Given, Stephen Ireland and Richard Dunne have all handed down their experience. This helps us when we are training and in contention for the first team – it's good to have that experience," he said yesterday.
"We've watched them in Euro qualifiers and World Cup qualifiers and we watched the way they play with passion. We see where they are and the main aim with under 19 and under 21 international football for all us Irish players is to break on and play for the senior national team. It would be an honour to do that and seeing them doing it gives us hunger to do the same."
Villa face a tough test in Como tomorrow against Chelsea but Carruthers feels that they can push on and win it.
"Obviously it's good that we are in the final – a lot of outsiders didn't believe we were going to make it this far but we have good team belief. I believed we could and we are here now – we just have to prove it to the rest by winning."