Republic of Ireland coach David Connell discusses breakthroughs, injuries and his hopes ahead of the country's first UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship in July, with former winners Sweden, England and Spain awaiting in Group B.
UEFA.com: It's your first final tournament; indeed, it's Ireland's first final tournament: what do you make of your first finals draw?
David Connell: Very, very tough – us and three previous winners. But, you know, we're not here to make up the numbers, we'll certainly give it a good go. We are looking forward to it. Three clean sheets, unbeaten in our last nine games – we're no pushovers.
UEFA.com: The stage is new but you'll be up against a couple of teams you know quite well.
Connell: Yes, we played England and Sweden at La Manga prior to going to the elite round in Holland. We drew 1-1 with England and beat Sweden 1-0 – both pretty encouraging results. But La Manga is La Manga; the European Championship will obviously be a different kettle of fish. It's going to be tough but, you know, it's going to be tough for the other teams as well. We are a good side.
UEFA.com: You almost made this breakthrough to the final tournament last season when, needing only a draw, you lost to Sweden on the last day of the elite round. What was the difference this time?
Connell: We had a good, deep squad this year. Last year we carried three major injuries into the last game against Sweden, and it was probably just a bridge too far for us on the day. But we learned from that and it galvanised the girls to make it this year, to make it over the line.
We had a good U17 team coming up, and six of that squad joined the U19s for the elite phase. That's great experience for those girls. So it was probably a mixture of the older players with the bad experience of last year, and young players coming in with no fear. It was a good blend and they work very, very hard for each other.
UEFA.com: You mentioned injuries last year – you have had to cope with a number of injuries to key players this season too.
David Connell: We are very unfortunate with our two goalkeepers from the first qualifying round: one had to retire due to a neck injury, our number one Jill Maloney, while Chelsea Noonan, our reserve keeper, did her ACL. So we had two new keepers coming in but they stepped up to the plate and played very well for us.
Then we lost Katie McCabe, one of our star players from the first phase. She broke her leg just before the elite round but we're hoping to have her back for the finals. We also lost Clare Shine, probably our other star player, in April to a broken leg. It's going to be touch and go whether she makes it. We just have to get on with it, it is part and parcel of football. We have a good squad, as I said, they work hard for each other.
UEFA.com: What is your ambition for the tournament?
David Connell: To win it. You know, I am sure the other seven countries feel the same way: it is an open competition this year, obviously with two major nations [France and Germany] not making it to the finals. I am sure everybody will fancy their chances. There's no doubt it's a tough group but, as I said, we're a good side.
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