IRELAND'S U19 side will head for the European Championship finals in Romania next month pleased to have avoided the big guns in the draw.
Paul Doolin was in Bucharest yesterday for the draw, which put Ireland in Group A of the finals – this is Ireland's first time to qualify at this level since 2002 – along with Romania, Greece and the Czech Republic.
That means they avoided tournament joint favourites Spain and Serbia, who are in Group B with Turkey and Belgium.
“I'm happy enough with the draw. Looking at the groups, people could say that ours is the easier of the two but we must respect all of the nations for getting to this stage of the tournament,” said Doolin, whose side qualified for the finals by winning their elite qualifying group which contained Poland, Ukraine and Italy.
“We have to play the hosts and they haven't had any qualifying so I'd imagine it will be a good atmosphere. I don't know a lot about them – our homework starts here.
“Romania, as hosts, will be difficult to beat, especially in the hot July temperatures, while Greece were one of only two nations out of the seven elite stage groups to finish with a maximum nine points from their three games.
“The Czech Republic will be a decent side and have a great record at underage level. If you look at Group B (Serbia, Turkey, Spain, Belgium), if you asked me which group I'd have preferred I'd have said this one.”
Doolin says that his players are currently taking a well-earned break after coming through a tough qualifying phase which saw them beat Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Poland and Italy.
“They lads have worked very hard to get here but they need a rest now, the lads who are in England have just had a hard season with their clubs, and we still have some League of Ireland players in action.
“I'll think about picking a squad and we would hope to get together for a training camp for around 10 days before the tournament starts next month, maybe somewhere like Italy,” added Doolin who is eager to acclimatise for the expected heat of Romania in July.
“At the moment it's warm and I'm told it will be 35 degrees in July,” he said. “It will be a big factor. The likes of Greece, Spain, Serbia and Romania will be more used to that.
“We will have to prepare for that. The games will be in the evening but it will still be warm. We'll just have to cope.
“My plan is to stage a pretournament training camp somewhere warm abroad to help the players acclimatise to the hot conditions they can expect to face.”
Ireland's group games will be played on July 20, 23 and 26. The semi-finals will then take place on July 30, with the final scheduled to be contested on August 1.