'We have to take it on the chin' - Ireland U19s boss Tom Mohan ready for Euro finals without top names
Ireland's Under-19 boss Tom Mohan believes he can overcome a raft of withdrawals to ensure his team compete well at their first Euro finals since 2011.
The Boys in Green landed in Armenia on Wednesday ahead of their Group A opener against Norway tomorrow. They also meet France and Czech Republic intent on securing one of the two berths on offer into next week's semi-finals.
Preparations for the finals have been anything but smooth for Mohan.
He was left waiting until the eleventh hour by some clubs on news as to whether they would release his players.
That the tournament falls outside of FIFA’s international windows left the FAI powerless in calling upon their strongest selection.
The Irish can rightly claim the early bragging rights in Yerevan as the sole nation from the seven qualifiers to reach the showpiece with a perfect record.
However, the caveat around that distinction is that the spine of their team that blazed the trail of winning all six games haven't made it to Armenia.
Troy Parrott, whose four goals in the first phase of qualifiers set the tone, is the standout absentee. There was no way his Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino would part with the hotshot unless he was obligated to.
The same applies to others on the fringes of their club first-teams. Luca Connell was all set to travel until Celtic tabled his dream contract offer. Jason Knight, already at Under-21 international at 18, is firmly part of the plans hatched by new Derby County manager Phillip Cocu.
With game-time approaching, Mohan cannot dwell on his plight. Half of his squad are underage again for next year, four of them eligible even for the 2021 campaign.
Speaking this morning, as he escaped the stifling Yerevan heat by inhabiting a shaded corner of the Republican Stadium where Keith Fahey notched a winner for the seniors in 2012, the Fermanagh native was looking on the bright side.
"It's very disappointing that the boys have been part of it all season and not be here," he confessed.
"We were waiting up to the last minute before confirming the squad. Clubs were planning for pre-season too.
"We have to take it on the chin and wish the players the best of luck. It's a sign of them doing well at their clubs.
"The players would love to be in both places but they can't. That's life.
"The reality is that it's very seldom will you have the same squad twice in a row. Lads stepped in during the second phase of qualifiers in March and helped us win all three games. Some of the newer ones this week have done really well in training.
"This is a major tournament across Europe and the boys can’t wait to get into the action."
Mohan assembled a preliminary group of players a fortnight ago in Dublin for a three-day training camp. This far deep into their preparations, he has to be mindful of overkill.
He said: "We met up in London on Tuesday, then had a full day of travelling, so had a few tired bodies on Thursday.
"We had to be careful with the training workload. We intensified training on Friday and Saturday but tonight’s session will be light.
"The players have to be fresh mentally and physically for the opening game but they’ll be ready for it. The countdown is on."
UEFA European Under-19 Championship - Group B
Monday, July 15: Republic of Ireland v Norway, Yerevan Football Academy Stadium, KO 3.45pm (Irish Time) - Live on RTÉ2.
Thursday, July 18: Republic of Ireland v France, Banats Stadium, Yerevan, KO 6.0pm (Irish Time) - Live on RTÉ2.
Sunday, July 21: Republic of Ireland v Czech Republic, Yerevan Football Academy Stadium, KO 6.0pm (Irish Time) - Live on RTÉ2.