Following many months of planning the scene is now set for what promises to be a real five star night of football at the RSC on Friday night (kick-off 7.45).
Back in January members of the FAI and a group of Waterford-based football folk met for the first time to try and put in place an operation which would insure that everything went according to plan, and thankfully there has not been a hitch to date. Ongoing meetings over the past number of weeks have seen everything fall into place and now the big kick off is only a short time away. During the past number of years top class teams from across Europe have played at the RSC and memories of visits from Holland and France are still fresh in many people’s minds.
Some of the biggest names on the European stage have graced the Waterford venue with their countries and there is no doubt that quite a number of more top-rated players from Spain will display their class to the public of the Southeast this Friday.
The Irish team also have some fine players in their squad and by all accounts this will be the first sell out crowd at the RSC since the new stand opened last year.
Don Givens, the Ireland Under 21 manager, announced his 18 man squad last week in the Tower Hotel, and he duly named a very attractive group of players. “It is a strong squad and we have good players in every position,” said Givens.
“Our recent results have been very encouraging. In our last three matches we have beaten Lithuania and drawn with both Portugal and Germany, so we will go into these matches in very good form.
“Spain have qualified for this summer’s European Championship having won all eight of their qualification games, so they are a very strong team. I am delighted to be playing a team like Spain because they are the sort of team we want to play to get ourselves ready for our next campaign.
“We open up our campaign in Turners Cross the following Tuesday against Turkey. This will be the first game in the UEFA Under 21 2011 European Championship qualifiers, so needless to say the game against Spain in Waterford will be vital because we will be trying out things that we hope to take into the game against Turkey.
“We will want to win to give us confidence for the game in Cork, while Spain will be keen to keep their unbeaten run going,” he added.
Eddie Nolan, the former Waterford Bohemians player who spent some time with Blackburn Rovers before moving on the play-off Coco Cola Championship outfit Preston North End, will captain the Irish team.
This will be his 12th cap at Under 21 level. Don Givens is delighted that Nolan is back with him following his withdrawal for the previous match. “Eddie was in my squad for the last game but he was withdrawn when Giovanni Trapattoni called him up to the full Irish team when Steve Finnan pulled out.
“Unfortunately he picked up a slight injury playing against Reading on the Saturday before the game and after reporting with the team in Malahide he had to return to Preston for treatment. I felt he was getting lost at Blackburn and he did the correct thing by signing for Preston.
“He could have remained on at Blackburn and picked up handy enough money but he wanted first team football and he is doing really well at Preston. I spoke with their manager [Alan Irvine] recently and he informed me that Eddie is one of his top players as the club try to close out a play-off position. Eddie is a footballing defender who can play anywhere across the back four, and I am delighted to have him back.”
Don Givens also spoke about a number of other players in his squad. “Jay O’Shea is a very exciting player. He was on the brink of a move to Derby County but when the manager moved on [Paul Jewell] the deal fell through. Any other player would have taken that set-back very badly but he has returned to Galway United and this season he has been fantastic for them in his role of captain.
“John-Joe O’Toole has moved from Watford to Sheffield United on loan and as a result he is really playing well for that club. He is a tigerish midfield player [he could be on his way to Fullham during the summer] and he has a big future in the game.”
Givens, like a lot of people, is very excited about the future of James McCarthy, who is one of the most talked about players in Scottish football. McCarthy has been the victim of cruel chants all season due to the fact that he declared for Ireland rather than Scotland. Givens has nothing but praise for the player who has attracted scouts from clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Palermo and Brescia.
McCarthy scored for Hamilton Academicals when he was only 16 years and 55 days old against Livingston in 2007. He played his 100th game for Accies against Rangers two weeks ago. “James made his debut for Hamilton when he was only 15 years old and to have played over 100 games for them is an extraordinary achievement. Heaven only knows what he will go on to do in this game,” said the manager.
Owen Garvan of Ipswich Town is another gem who will be on view this Friday. But Givens believes he can add to his game. “Owen is a smashing player on the ball. He can spray balls around the park no problem. However we will have to get him to work a little more off the ball. If he does that he will go right to the top.”
The Irish team will train today (Wednesday) Thursday and Friday in Ozier Park. The Spanish team which flew into Waterford Airport yesterday will train in Graun Park, Tramore.
Tickets for the game are still on sale at John Ryan’s Shop, Patrick Street and from the outlet outside the RSC. They can also be purchased from the office in Ozier Park and from Ger Wyley’s Sports Shop in Dungarvan.
The full Republic of Ireland squad is as follows: Shane Redmond (Eastwood Town), Stephen Henderson (Bristol City), Brendan Moloney (Nottingham Forest), Michael Spillane (Luton Town), Eddie Nolan (Preston North End), Shane Lowery (Aston Villa), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Stephen Gleeson (Wolves), James McCarthy (Hamilton Academicals), Owen Garvan (Ipswich Town), Michael Liddle (Carlisle United), Alan Judge (Plymouth Argyle), David Myler (Sunderland), John-Joe O’Toole (Sheffield United), Jay O’Shea (Gamway United), Graham Carey (Bohemians), Cillian Sheridan (Motherwell), Christy Fagan (Glen Hoddle Academy).