Sport Soccer

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Skipper Egan hails Doolin decision to reward loyalty to U-19s' cause

John Fallon

AS Ireland's beaten U-19 European Championship semi-finalists returned from Romania in the early hours of yesterday morning, captain John Egan backed the original decision of manager Paul Doolin to leave some big names out.

Manchester United duo Robbie Brady and Sean McGinty, along with Everton's first-teamer Shane Duffy, were missing from the Irish squad which progressed from their group at the finals only to lose heavily against Spain in Friday's semi-final.

Though Brady, now on loan at Hull City, started the campaign as captain and still ended as the team's top scorer over the UEFA series, the winger was dropped for the Championships.

That's because Doolin took exception when Brady failed to return phone-calls after Manchester United withdrew him from the elite qualifiers in May. Sunderland defender Egan replaced Brady as captain for those qualifiers and kept the armband for the finals. Doolin remained loyal to the players which topped that group which included Italy when it came to his selection for the eight-nation finals.

Egan felt the manager's stance was vindicated by the performance of the team at the finals.

"No disrespect to players not in the squad, but the squad Paul (Doolin) picked was right for the tournament. It showed as we got to the last four. How many teams can say they did that?" he said.

"We don't care about anybody who wasn't in the squad. If you're not in the squad, you don't play, and you don't mean anything to the team. I wasn't, and I don't think anyone else was, focusing on other players who weren't there. I think playing for your country is the biggest honour you can get.

"Clubs pay the bills but playing for country is something you do for yourself, family and everyone in the country. When you pull on that green jersey, you're doing it for everyone that lives in Ireland and everyone you've ever known.

"It's a big thing; you have to be proud of where you're from. That's getting taken out of it a bit these days. There's money and what not in football and players might think they're too good for this and that. But playing for your country is the biggest honour you can have. I love it and so do the other players in squad. It showed during the tournament that we got emotional a few times."

Having seen at first-hand the Spanish machine in action, Egan reckons the World and European Champions have the depth of talent to continue dominating at levels for years to come.

"They don't lose the ball. They make the pitch feel like six acres of land. They work off the ball so hard for each other. There is a way to stop it, like with everything, but they were the best team I've ever played against.

"If they keep producing players like that, they might as well close down the European Championship and World Cup because they'll be winning everything. I think people might have looked at the match and said Ireland could have done this and that but they don't understand what it's like to be on the pitch against their quality. Our game plan worked in the first 20 minutes. Spain only had one or two half-chances and they found us hard to break down.

"Our player, Matt Doherty, was actually talking to the Spain goalkeeper yesterday and he said at half-time that their coach spoke to them about how hard it was to break us down. I suppose that was a compliment. It's going to take a very good team to beat them."

Ginés Meléndez leads the Spain team into tonight's final against Czech Republic in Chiajna Stadium (6.0, Irish time) chasing a fifth title in nine years.

Irish Independent

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