Despite only taking over in September, Paul Doolin has led the Republic of Ireland into the finals for the first time since 2002 – and he does not want the achievements to end there.
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The Republic of Ireland have not appeared in the UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals for nine years yet having ousted former champions Italy and Ukraine in winning elite round Group 4, their coach Paul Doolin – who took charge in September – is quietly confident his side can produce something special in Romania.
UEFA.com: Congratulations on qualifying – it must be immensely satisfying?
Paul Doolin: If you looked at our elite round group, Poland were the hosts, Ukraine won this competition two years ago and of course Italy, so we said to the players that if we were in it on the last day, we would accept that. We concentrated on the Poland game, won that 1-0 and played well, and then got a draw against Ukraine. I don't think too many people would have expected us to beat Italy when a draw was enough for them but we were exceptional on the day. I never expect to beat anybody but I expect a certain level of performance and application and the rest looks after itself, and on the night we were excellent. Not to concede a goal in that mini-tournament was fantastic.
UEFA.com: Is defensive strength something you've focused on?
Doolin: Organisation is a strong part of our team. We had a bit of luck not to concede a goal but you need that sometimes and I do think we're a good group of players.
UEFA.com: You're in Group A alongside Romania, the Czech Republic and Greece – what do you make of that?
Doolin: As they're the hosts we don't know too much about Romania. We've played the Czech Republic a few times over the years and Greece got nine points in the elite round, which is no mean feat. It'll be an interesting and tough group but we're a completely different team from the qualifying round in Bulgaria – I think we've got five players from that squad so we've done fantastically.
UEFA.com: What prompted that overhaul?
Doolin: We won the first two games in Bulgaria but then lost to Serbia, who looked stronger technically and physically. I'd had no involvement in picking that squad so I wanted to see what was available to me. I had a look round the clubs in England, where most of our players are. We had two friendlies in Croatia, I took 17 new players and we got a win and a draw. Then we went to Cyprus with a blend of some players from the qualifying round and some I'd introduced and we did well again. Our elite round was good but this is another step up. We're really looking forward to it.
UEFA.com: You took over late last year – how are you finding international football?
Doolin: I'd had Champions League and Europa League football as manager of Drogheda United and enjoyed it, because it's a new challenge. It's a learning curve for me because it's different tactically and technically. There are a lot of different systems used, whereas in our club game it's mostly 4-4-2. It's been great and to qualify is fantastic, especially for the association, who set up the emerging talent programme a few years ago. A lot of the squad have come through that and that's a great boost. We have a young group and it's fantastic what they've done. We're not saying we're going to win the tournament but we're also not saying, 'We've qualified and that's that.' We want to try and get out of the group.