Strong bond in U-19 camp gives us edge – Sweeney
PIERCE SWEENEY believes that camaraderie is the secret weapon that can help Ireland qualify for the finals of the European U-19 Championship.
As they prepare to kick off their elite phase qualifying campaign against Switzerland today – with Slovakia to follow on Saturday and Serbia next Tuesday – confidence is high in the Irish camp.
And Sweeney (right), who has been appointed captain by manager Paul Doolin, believes the fact that most of the squad are friends stretching back to their schoolboy days is a massive advantage.
"There is me, Sean Kavanagh, Adam Evans and Darragh Lenihan, who all played together at Belvedere. Darragh will miss these games because he's injured, but there is still a strong Belvo connection," said Sweeney, who is making a big impression at Reading.
"There are no cliques in the squad, though. We are pals with all the other lads. Most of us have known each other for about five or six years now. I think that is a big advantage."
Getting off to a winning start is crucial if Doolin's charges are to secure a place in the finals in Lithuania in late July/early August.
Doolin has been at this stage twice before and two years ago he led his team to the semi-finals, where they were beaten by Spain.
While quietly confident, Doolin is wary of the Swiss. "They've got some very good players and are very quick on the transition from defence to attack. It will be a tough game, but we have a good group of players."
With no fresh injury concerns, Doolin has a full squad available, apart from Lenihan. He is a big loss, but the likes of Sweeney, Tottenham winger Kenny McEvoy and Manchester United's Sam Byrne are eager to step up to the plate.
IRELAND (probable) – I Lawlor (Manchester City); N Baba (Fulham), P Sweeney (Reading), S Smith (Leicester City), S Griffin (Reading); S Kavanagh (Fulham), L Gallagher (Burnley), B Garmston (West Brom); K McEvoy (Tottenham Hotspur), S Byrne (Manchester United), W Hayhurst (Preston).