IRELAND'S next generation of stars will try to edge closer to European Championship qualification in Sligo tonight -- while also trying to catch the eye of Giovanni Trapattoni and make it onto the plane with the senior team for Euro 2012.
Noel King's U21 side take on Liechtenstein in Sligo (7.30), in what will be their last competitive game until next June, when they take on Italy at home.
Ireland are in third place in their five-team qualifying group, six points behind Italy and Turkey, but have three games in hand on the Turks, so a top-two finish is not beyond their grasp. There is no automatic qualification for the U21 finals, as the 10 group winners and the four best second-placed teams will go into a play off.
For King, the main aim from tonight and the group is to achieve qualification for the Euro finals for the first time ever at U21 level, but his players will be thinking big.
"The aim for all of the players has to be to get into the senior squad and that's even more heightened now that it seems like the seniors will be at the European Championship finals," King said.
"The ambition must be for them to push on in their careers and it would be great if some of these players in the U21 squad were pushing hard for a place for the senior squad for next summer.
"Some of them have already been involved with the seniors. Greg Cunningham has been capped by Giovanni Trapattoni, Conor Clifford was on the bench for the Croatia game a few months ago, and Shane Duffy has trained with the seniors.
"I'd love to see some of them push on with their careers, it's brilliant for Irish football as a whole to see the senior team do so well, it will give the game at all levels a push.
"But my main concern for the moment is this game tonight, a match we have to win," added King.
Ireland faced Liechtenstein in Vaduz last month, but had a nervy night as the hosts took the lead early on, before Ireland responded with a four-goal blast, winning 4-1.
King has a strong squad to pick from, as defender Gavin Gunning (Dundee United) is back from injury and Shane Duffy is included, but both may have to settle for a place on the bench.
IRELAND U21 (probable): McLoughlin (MK Dons); Connolly (Bolton), Canavan (Scunthorpe), Kiernan (Watford), Cunningham (Nottm Forest); Brady (Hull C), Towell (Hibs), Clifford (Yeovil), White (Leeds); Barton (Preston); Collins (Shrewsbury).