Depleted Irish set for UEFA U19 Championship with England
The Republic of Ireland U19 side kick-off the elite qualifying phase of the UEFA Championship in Kiev on Wednesday (kick-off: 11am Irish time) against last year's beaten finalists, England.
Only the winners of group 3 which also includes reigning champions, Ukraine and Bosnia & Herzegovina, will qualify for the UEFA U19 Championship finals which will take place in Northern France this summer.
Six of the eight finalists at the UEFA Championships will also advance to the FIFA World Cup which will take place later this year.
Irish manager, Sean McCaffrey has had to deal with the incredible loss of eight key players including Blackburn trio Aaron Doran (shoulder), Gavin Gunning (on loan with play-off finalists, Rotterham) and Callum O'Connor (shoulder) while Watford's Rob Kiernan and Sunderland's Gearoid Morrissey have withdrawn due to respective ankle and groin injuries.
Also missing from the squad is Manchester City's Greg Cunningham who is with Giovanni Trapattoni's senior squad this week while Jamil Adams (Barnsley) and Joe Mason (Plymouth) both withdrew from the squad this week due to illness.
Speaking ahead of the opening game against England, Irish manager, Sean McCaffrey said, "In my opinion, I think that this age group is one of the most exciting squads that we have produced for a quite a long time.
"I firmly believe that a large number of the age group will represent Ireland at senior level and at the highest level in the club game.
"However, to lose eight players of their quality ahead of this qualifying phase is an unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in. We have lost a wealth of experience from these seasoned international players, many of whom have played at UEFA Championship finals and at U21 level.
"The three years of work that we have put into this squad has been seriously undermined with the withdrawals," he said.
McCaffrey added, "That being said, I am absolutely delighted for players such as Gavin Gunning who will feature in the League Two play-off final for Rotherham while Greg Cunningham is making the step up to senior international football with Giovanni Trapattoni's squad.
"That is fantastic progress for those players and I am genuinely delighted for them.
"However, the withdrawals have given some really talented players an opportunity to come into this squad and prove that they have what it takes at this level.
"For example, Karl Sheppard has done brilliantly with Galway United since his move there while goalkeeper, Ger Hanley is now back at the top of his game since his move to Mervue United where he has regained his sharpness and confidence which comes with playing in the Airtricity League on a regular basis."
"Under 17 defender, Sean McGinty has done brilliantly all year at Manchester United and with our U17 team, but to step up a further two years out of his age group and face Premier League footballers such as Nathan Delfounso at Aston Villa is a big challenge for any player.
"We still have quality players in the squad who possess a lot of quality around the middle of the park such as Robbie Brady and Ronan Murray while we now have Wolves defender, John Dunleavy back from injury for the first time this year so that has to be a positive for the squad," said McCaffrey.
McCaffrey added, "I think that we will possess a danger to this strong English side when we are in possession of the ball, we have players in midfield and attack who have great ability and are potential match winners but the result will largely hang on how well we defend against them.
"The inclusion of Daniel Kearns in the squad is also a very positive upshot as he has really impressed in recent friendlies in attack."
McCaffrey added, " I am sure that we will play well against England, we have a fine squad and they will be difficult to contain but the English side are physically strong and our side are well prepared as we have done our homework on the opposition players.
"I firmly believe that the greatest teams in the world cannot afford to lose eight of their starring players and still perform at the highest level. On saying that, we are due a bit of fortune this week and we will remain positive in our approach to games but remain realistic about what we can achieve this week," he said.
Republic of Ireland Under-19 Squad:
Ger Hanley - Mervue United
Ian McLoughlin - Ipswich Town
Richie Towell - Celtic
Johnny Dunleavy - Wolverhampton Wanderers
Andy Boyle - UCD
Sean McGinty - Manchester United
Shaun Timmins - Birmingham City
Shane McEleney - Derry City
Conor Clifford - Chelsea
Conor Henderson - Arsenal
Conor Hourihane - Sunderland
Daniel Kearns - West Ham United
Jimmy Keohane - Wexford Youths
Robbie Brady - Manchester United
Ronan Murray - Ipswich Town
Harry Crawford - Southend United.
Stephen McDonnell - Dundalk
Karl Sheppard - Galway United
UEFA Under-19 Championship Elite Stage Qualifiers:
Wednesday, May 26
England v Republic of Ireland (12 noon) - FFU Training complex, Kiev
Ukraine v Bosnia-Herzegovina (4pm) - Borex, Borodinka
Friday, May 28
England v Bosnia-Herzegovina (12 noon) - FFU Training complex, Kiev
Republic of Ireland v Ukraine (4pm) - Borex, Borodinka
Monday, May 31
Ukraine v England (4pm) - Borex, Borodinka
Bosnia-Herzegovina v Republic of Ireland (4pm) - FFU Training complex, Kiev.