Colin O’Brien says Ireland are ready for European powerhouses after storming into last eight
COLIN O'Brien says his heroic Ireland U-17 side will be able to stand up to the best in Europe - including a quarter-final clash with potential opponents Spain on Saturday - after the Republic batted away the challenge of host nation Hungary to make it into the last eight.
A 4-2 win over the hosts outside Budapest, with St Patrick's Athletic pair Mason Melia and Luke Kehir getting a brace each, gave Ireland the win they needed - Hungary only needed a draw to advance - to make the last eight and they now face the winners of Group B, most likely to be Spain but with Serbia and Slovenia also in the mix.
Ireland were unrecognisable from the side which fell 5-1 to Poland in the opening game and O'Brien has faith in their ability to do more. "We're into the quarter final of the European Championship finals and we are really pleased, if you look at our squad, we are the youngest squad here. I am so proud of them, they are a great bunch of lads, really superb, brilliant personalities, great values in the players and quality as well and they showed a lot of character.
"That first game was wiped away, there were no reactions to it, they backed up the second performance against Wales with another brilliant performance against Hungary. I am so proud of them, we are into cup football now and we prepare for that on Saturday.
"You go into knockout football, Spain play on Wednesday against Serbia, no matter who we play next we will prepare.
"If it is Spain that will be some experience for the boys. We are in the last eight in Europe now, if you look at our metrics in comparison to every other country in Europe and football development, we shouldn't be here. But we are. There is a lot of knowledge in our country and knowledge is power.
"It was a proper football match, they are the hosts and if they draw or win they go through, and they have been brilliant hosts, I know how difficult it is to be the coach of a host nation as you've not come through qualifying.
"We had a really good team meeting about the occasion but we focused on ourselves and they executed the game plan really well, to put themselves into that environment, a proper game, a lot of swings in the game but we knew what to do in certain parts of the game. I am delighted with what the staff have done, ay international level and at their clubs.
St Patrick's Athletic duo Luke Kehir and Mason Melia now have the big guns of European football in their sights after they powered Ireland into the last eight.
"It’s now into knockout football, anything can happen," Kehir said after the game. "We believe in ourselves. We weren’t ourselves in the first game and we’ve shown that, we’re looking forward to the challenge. We’ll be ready. I am absolutely buzzing, it’s an honour to score for my country, it gets better every time, the most important thing is that we got the win."
Melia said he knew that the goals would come to get the win the side needed. "It’s amazing. I’m just happy for the lads, happy to score, happy to be doing what I do. This game, I was just looking for my goals, I knew they were there, Collie [O'Brien] said to me yesterday he could feel the goals," Melia said.
"After Poland we were devastated but we got a good response against Wales. I was happy for the lads but I wanted my goals, my mentality is I want to score.
"And Luke’s a big game player, he’s exceptional at what he does, his finishes are amazing."