Sunday 26 February 2017

O'Connor keeps sights set on semi-final spot

John Fallon

UNLIKELY match-winner Anthony O'Connor admitted last night that the enormity of his role in Ireland's U-19 European Championship win over Greece 24 hours earlier was a major highlight of his blossoming career.

The Blackburn Rovers defender hadn't netted a competitive goal at international level until his brace in the Buftea suburb of Bucharest did enough to give Ireland the chance to all but secure a progression from the group with another victory tomorrow in their second game against the Czech Republic.

Corkman O'Connor was in the right place twice from corners at the start of each half as Ireland got their group off to the best possible start. His first goal in particular after just two minutes was textbook stuff, with the centre-back swivelling in the box to drive a low volley into the net from 10 yards.

RESULT

"I was really happy to chip in with the two goals but the result was the most important thing," said the former Nufarm and Kilreen Celtic player.

"I don't think I'd ever scored one (the first goal) that good before. It just came to me and I caught it sweetly and it went into the net.

"I got messages from a few friends and family saying congratulations, telling me they were proud as punch. But I'll keep my feet on the floor and look forward to the next game.

"I think Greeks are always a tough test. They move the ball well and they get around the pitch well but we had a game plan. We always do. Organisation is a key part of our team and it paid off last night.

"We did our homework on them and exploited areas where they might be weak. In the videos we watched, they didn't look like they were picking up from set-pieces. Thankfully, I just exploited the spaces that I saw and got on the end for the goals.

"We're dangerous from set-pieces. We have good headers of the ball, as well as aggressive players and thankfully we got the goals to put us in a very good position for the next two group games."

After tomorrow's encounter against the Czechs, 3-1 winners over Romania in the other game in the pool contested on Wednesday, Ireland complete the group by facing the hosts next Tuesday.

The top two in the group advance to the semi-final stages tomorrow week, meaning a win from either of the remaining two matches will likely seal Ireland's passage into the last-four.

Irish Independent

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