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Commitment counts for Ireland

The Republic of Ireland hope their effort will be rewarded at the UEFA Regions' Cup.

By Aidan Fitzmaurice

They are officially described as the Republic of Ireland's amateur team, but there is nothing amateur about the approach and dedication of manager Gerry Smith and his squad.

Famous players
The players may not be well known, but they come from some of the most prestigious non-professional clubs in Ireland. Ruari Beechinor plays for Cork club Rockmount FC, whose most famous ex-player is Manchester United FC captain and Republic of Ireland star Roy Keane, while Ray Whelehan plays for Dublin side Tolka Rovers FC, the alma mater of current Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham - who plays in the Premiership for Birmingham City FC.

THE MAN IN COMMAND

Dubliner Smith did not have an illustrious playing career but he has carved out a name for himself as a coach. He has been in charge of the amateur international side for seven years and managed Ireland's Under-20 side at the 2003 FIFA World Youth Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates.

uefa.com: What are you hoping to achieve at the Regions' Cup finals?

Gerry Smith: It's simple enough, we want to get out of the group and get to the final. Our first match will be crucial, when the tournament is structured like this you have to try and win your first game.

uefa.com: Have you enjoyed playing in the competition so far?

Smith: It's been great. The main thing is that the players get recognition, they can play on a European stage and represent their country. It's brilliant for the players, they get the same treatment playing for Ireland as the senior international squad, they wear the official Ireland shirt, they have a pennant, they sing the national anthem.

uefa.com: What do you feel are the strengths of your team?

Smith: We have a very solid defence and very good goalkeepers. In the qualifiers we scored ten goals and conceded four, which is not a bad record. As well as that we have a good blend of youth and experience. We have some lads who are young but have played a lot and know the game, we have five or six lads who are aged around 22 and they can play at this level for a long time. We also have a lot of experience in Barry Flynn, who has 50 caps at this level.

uefa.com: What kind of professions do you and your players have?

Smith: It's a mixture, but a lot of our lads are office-based. Barry Flynn, our midfielder, works in air traffic control, Keith Bruen has his own transport company and runs coaches. James Walsh works in finance, David Conroy is employed in a printers. I work in an engineering company which I own with two partners.

uefa.com: What would winning the trophy mean to you?

Smith: It's not what it would mean to me personally but to the players. They put in a huge amount of work and commitment - in the six weeks before the finals we had training sessions in Dublin all weekend and even though some players live at the other end of the country, 250km away, they turned up. That commitment deserves reward.