Cunningham craves a perfect finish for U21s to qualify for first Euros
SENIOR Ireland cap Greg Cunningham has targeted a six-point haul from the next two games for the Irish U21 side to make sure that months of hard work are not thrown away.
The next week will see the end of the group phase of qualification for the 2013 European Championship finals. Noel King's side needs back-to-back wins against Hungary today (4pm) and then away to Italy next Monday to be in with a chance of making it into the playoff stage of qualification for the Euro finals, which will be held in Israel next year.
Ireland have never qualified for the Euro U21 finals and have rarely even come close to qualification.
But a solid campaign in this group, which started with three wins from the first four games, has left King's side at least in contention for a place in the playoffs.
Italy have effectively won the group, but two wins from the last two games would see Ireland finish second ahead of Turkey, and hoping that would be enough to get into the playoffs as one of the best four runners-up.
For some of the players, the road to this stage of their careers started a long time ago as players like Cunningham, Robbie Brady and Richie Towell were part of the Irish U17 side which competed at the European Championship finals in Turkey in 2008.
"We've had some great results in this campaign. We beat Hungary and had a great result against Italy so we want to round it all off by at least finishing second," says Cunningham ahead of tonight's game in Kecskemet.
"We worked hard to get into contention and we aim to finish off the job and try to qualify. We need two wins from the two games to finish second anyway.
"With the way the other groups are going even if we finish second it might not be enough but we have to do our part and at least win this game in Hungary. We have a great squad here and we have done so well recently, apart from that disappointing result against Turkey. We are just looking to qualify and it's a big week ahead of us, we have all our focus on the Hungary game first and then we'll look to Turkey.
"We need one big result in Hungary before we can think about anything else. If we don't win in Hungary we won't be able to progress so it's a huge game for us. We have to go and get the win but we are capable of doing that with the squad we have," added Cunningham.
"We have a few of us who are at the same stage of our careers now and we will move on to the next stage of our international careers. Some of the lads will still be eligible for the U21s again next year but a lot of us have come up through the ranks together and we'd like to carry on as a team for a bit longer."
The Galway lad is a key member of the U21 squad, with experience at senior international level (three caps) and the Premier League, from his time with Manchester City, but he's certain that he made the right call in quitting Eastlands earlier this summer and making that switch to Bristol City.
"The move has gone well for me and I know I did the right thing by leaving City when I did. I learned a lot at Manchester City but I had to move on for the sake of my own career."
Injury deprived King of some key players from his squad but he hopes that some good club form for players such as Derby County midfielder Jeff Hendrick and highly-rated Leeds prospect Aidan White can see his side past Hungary.