uefa regions cup final
The Irish Amateur team is just one more win away from being crowned European champions as they take on Croatia in the UEFA Regions Cup final today in Tallaght Stadium.
For the players in the Irish set-up, under the banner of Eastern Region, this is simply the biggest day of their sporting lives. It does not get bigger than a European final and the fact that the decider is on home soil makes it even more special.
The Irish head into this match on the back of a six-game winning streak in the Regions Cup. Gerry Smith's side blasted through their qualifying group last autumn and notched up another three wins to make their way through to today's final, defeating Turkey, Czech Republic and Bosnia.
The Irish have been excellent en-route to the final, especially defensively as Smith's side has only conceded once. The hosts have been tactically smart, disciplined and resilient, traits that will be needed more than ever when they come up against the Croatians.
While their success has been built on those sound defensive foundations, the glory will come from those at the sharp end of the attack.
Smith, who leads his side into a second final, has plenty of options in front of goal with David Lacey and Greg Moorhouse, back after suspension, likely to start up top and Jon Rock and Thomas Dunne available to liven things up from the bench.
Out wide Aji Sule and Jimmy Carr have both illuminated the tournament. Carr's trickery is capable of picking the lock on any defence, while Sule's direct power coupled with his frightening pace will be major worry for the Croatians.
The Irish boss made nine changes for the midweek win over Bosnia and is expected to make as many for the final tomorrow. Smith has reported a few knocks and bruises, but nothing that will rule players out.
Smith is expected to reunite James Lee and Darren Dunne in the middle of the park. Dunne has netted twice already and his dead-ball ability will prove vital for a side that has already netted four of their six goals from set-pieces.
Skipper Ken Hoey, Noel Murray and Paul Breen will return to the back four with either Paul Murphy and Keith Lynch expected to fill the final spot. Brendan O'Connell will resume duty between the sticks after David Meehan deputised in midweek.
Croatians have been equally as impressive. They defeated Northern Ireland, Poland and a highly fancied Germany on their way to the Tallaght showdown, netting nine times in their three games..
Croatia will be without the suspended Antun Strjacki, a high quality playmaker who picked up a second yellow card against Germany. That said, the Croatians are a powerful unit. They are technically and physically imposing and will provide the Irish with their toughest test yet.