EURO QUALIFIER Victory over Iceland would have Ireland young guns in line for first major U-21 tournament
Nathan Collins believes that club experience can propel Ireland’s Under-21s to the necessary victory over Iceland in Sunday’s penultimate Euro qualifier.
Last month’s 2-0 defeat in Italy leaves Jim Crawford’s side with no margin of error to reach a first-ever major U-21 tournament.
Six points against the Vikings at Tallaght on Sunday and away to basement side Luxembourg next Wednesday would secure their passage to next year’s tournament as one of the best second-placed nations.
Collins is one of the most experienced club campaigners in the panel, having already captained Stoke City, but Jason Knight and Conor Masterson have also racked up games in the Championship. Strikers Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi have featured in the Premier League too.
Elsewhere in the squad are a scattering of cadets operating regularly in League One and Two, a far cry from previous campaigns when non-league players were regular starters.
Iceland – beaten 2-1 by leaders Italy in today’s rescheduled group game – are also in the hunt for runners-up, as are Sweden.
“The first-team football has been really helpful,” said 19-year-old Collins, who has made eight appearances for Michael O’Neill’s Potters this term.
“What I bring from the Championship to international football is big.
“It helps myself and the other players in the squad. A lot of them have experience as well in the Championship or the Premier League or League One.
“Whatever international age-group I've been in, we've had a good team.
“We just want to bounce back from the Italy defeat by winning these two games.”
The Dubliner admits Sunday’s showdown is one the biggest of his career.
“Yes, I'd say it's up there, to be fair,” he admitted. “Even the Italy game last month, you could say, was massive as well. At this stage, they're all huge.
“The togetherness of this team is really good as well. The objective is to quality and we want it for pride.”
IRELAND U-21 SQUAD:
Goalkeepers: Gavin Bazunu (Rochdale, on loan from Manchester City), Ed McGinty (Sligo Rovers)
Defenders: Nathan Collins (Stoke City), Darragh Leahy (Dundalk), Conor Masterson (Queens Park Rangers), Mark McGuinness (Ipswich Town, on loan from Arsenal), Danny McNamara (St Johnstone, on loan from Millwall), Lee O’Connor (Tranmere Rovers, on loan from Celtic), Thomas O’Connor (Gillingham, on loan from Southampton), Liam Scales (Shamrock Rovers)
Midfielders: Conor Coventry (West Ham United), Luca Connell (Celtic), Will Ferry (Southampton), Jason Knight (Derby County), Danny Mandroiu (Bohemians), Connor Ronan (Grasshopper Zurich, on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers), Anthony Scully (Lincoln City), Jack Taylor (Peterborough United)
Forwards: Ryan Cassidy (Accrington Stanley, on loan from Watford), Zack Elbouzedi (Lincoln City), Danny Grant (Bohemians), Joshua Kayode (Carlisle United, on loan from Rotherham United), Michael Obafemi (Southampton), Troy Parrott (Millwall, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur)
UEFA Under-21 European Championship Qualifier - Group 1
Sunday: Ireland v Iceland, Tallaght Stadium, 12.30pm (Live on eir Sport)
Weds (18 Nov): Luxembourg v Republic of Ireland, Beggen, 4.30pm (Irish time)