Football: Ireland's fountain of youth

Steve Tongue sees plenty to cheer Mick McCarthy in narrow defeat

IRISH EYES were drooping with fatigue and disappointment at 4am on Thursday morning, after the belated arrival back in Dublin that followed an unlucky European Championship defeat by Yugoslavia. Mick McCarthy's still lit up when conversation with the Republic of Ireland's coach turned to the young men who, he says, could form the basis of the national team for the next 10 years.

"They'll all get better," he said, "Damien Duff, Robbie Keane, David Connolly, Mark Kinsella - it'll be nice if he gets even better, the way he's playing - Gary Breen, Shay Given, they'll all get more experienced." Few international managers anywhere in the world are allowed the luxury of long-term thinking. Writing off even one qualifying tournament as a transitional period can suddenly necessitate finding alternative employment. What McCarthy and the Irish have going for them is that an extraordinarily successful development system is already producing players capable of making an impact at the highest level; and that in a country where Gaelic football remains a serious rival.

Duff, Blackburn's attacking midfielder, and Robbie Keane, the exciting Wolves striker, are the first graduates from a youth team that completed the unprecedented double by winning the European Under-18 championship last summer, after their juniors had captured the Under-16 competition. Of the older side, Duff, Richard Dunne (Everton), Stephen McPhail (Leeds), Alan Quinn (Sheffield Wednesday) and Barry Quinn (Coventry) have all subsequently appeared for Premiership clubs. Twelve months earlier, Duff, slight and blond, but vigorously effective, had been an important member of the Irish side that out-performed Michael Owen's England to finish third in the World Youth Cup in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, on the same day last week that "Duffer" impressed McCarthy with his "best performance yet for us" in Belgrade, several of his contemporaries, now at U21 level, were helping to achieve a 1-1 draw away to Yugoslavia after the team were reduced to nine men. At home, the U19s were winning 2-0 against Denmark with the core of the side who will compete in the World Youth Cup in five months' time, under Brian Kerr, who for two years has overseen the development of Ireland's youth football.

Never a professional himself - Shelbourne Reserves marked the zenith of his playing career - Kerr puts the success down to having a proper structure in place throughout the country, with greater coaching opportunities available outside the big towns, and a co-ordinated approach from schoolboy to senior level. He believes it could and should have happened sooner. "We reached a European semi-final in 1984, but a lot of the work being done then was dismantled after that: they didn't seem to realise that you had to have it. In the past, too, almost all the players seemed to come from Dublin, but now more are coming from Cork and outlying rural areas. Then I think that as a nation we've become more confident after the success of the national team under Jack Charlton, and even in business and music: we don't have an inferiority complex any more."

As a former manager of St Patrick's Athletic, last season's Irish champions, Kerr has mixed feelings about the fact that more and more British clubs are pouring scouts into the country. "They take boys training at 11 and 12, for weekends at 13 and 14, and are signing them at 16. It's crazy. But until we provide an alternative ourselves, it's going to continue. Once I pick someone for one of the youth teams, he's usually gone within a few months. The positive side is that they then get a good lifestyle for sport, good coaching and training. Lads like Duff and Keane have emerged very quickly into the senior team, and that encourages other young lads."

The short-term may be all about what happens in five remaining European Championship matches, and could yet end in tears. Even if it does, they will quickly be wiped away, for bright eyes are focused on the future, with a clarity and optimism matched in few places.

There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice