Thursday sees Tom Mohan’s Republic of Ireland’s under-17 make their bow in the European championships when they take on the Netherlands in Sozopol, Bulgaria.
The Republic have been drawn in a very strong group, with England and Italy making for something of a group of death.
“They’re all strong nations,” agrees Mohan, a native of Aghadrumsee. “Holland and England have either been winning or competing in the last number of finals over the past five or six years. They’ve been very strong at u17 level. It’s a challenge, but at the end of the day that’s why we put all the effort in to be here.
“It’s high quality opposition and you know you’re going to have to do as much homework on them as possible. You’re going to have to have to be aware of the real quality individuals. But you can’t get to bogged down on names either. Boys have got to go and play too, and we encourage them to go and play, be creative and be attacking. We’ve scored a lot of goals this season. Obviously it’s going go be more difficult as you come up against tougher defences and high quality attackers. They’ve very good footballers, but we’ve got very good footballers too so we want to let them go and express themselves too.”
It’s not Mohan’s first foray into the final stages of international soccer. He was involved as coach in 2008 when Sean McCaffrey was manager and that provided some valuable experience as he prepared for this Balkan odyssey.
“There’s a massive logistics behind the tournament,” said Mohan. “It’s a major operation to get everything ready. We had a training camp last week, we had medical days, some lads have exams to do also and trying you’re to get football fitted in too. It’s a hectic schedule. The last while I’ve been on the road 24 seven. I was over in Bulgaria at the draw, then I was over watching Holland then you’ve a lot of games to cover here in Ireland as well. We’ll be glad to get on the plane and away over there.”
While it’s an impressive roll call of names arrayed against the Republic, Mohan has every confidence that the Boys in Green will be able to give a good account of themselves.
“We’ve come through pressure situations before during the season from the qualifying phase to the elite phase,” said Mohan. “There’s big demands on them at the elite level too. That’s part and parcel of football, dealing with that pressure. These boys are so excited to be in this environment.
“At under-17 level they’ve come up through under-15 and under-16s. Previous to that they’ve come through the school boy structure. They’ve been involved in emerging talent programmes, obviously we’ve players involved with UK clubs as well, they’ve gone through the system over there and our scouts have identified them. There’s a wide scope at this age and more players come to your attention.”
No matter how the tournament pans out, Mohan feels great pride in taking the team to the last 16 in Europe and cementing a place for the Republic among soccer’s elite.
“No doubt about it, you’re proud of the boys and what they’ve achieved,” said Mohan. “But I’ve a strong back room staff with me too. It’s very proud time for the people who have helped develop these players along the player pathway.
Their clubs, leagues emerging talent and the previous underage international managers that have worked with them. I’m in the privileged position of being able to take them this distance.”
The time for talk is rapidly diminishing though, and Mohan is focused on the job in hand.
“All we’re in control of at the moment is our next game. You can’t get to concerned about two or three games down the line. All season we’ve taken one game at a time and we’ll continue to do that and see where it takes us.”