Unbeaten Irish ready for Euro qualifiers

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The Independent Online

Don Givens will lead his Republic of Ireland Under-21 team into the forthcoming European Championship qualifiers bursting with confidence.

Don Givens will lead his Republic of Ireland Under-21 team into the forthcoming European Championship qualifiers bursting with confidence.

Paddy McCarthy's first goal for his country gave the Irish a 3-2 win over Bulgaria in Drogheda on Tuesday night and extended their unbeaten run to 12 matches.

The Irish failed to qualify for the last finals but Givens believes they have a better chance this time around. He said: "This time we have a group of lads who have improved over the years and become a hard team to beat."

Key in Givens' plans will be 18-year-old Celtic midfielder Aiden McGeady, who enjoyed an impressive debut at United Park. It was McGeady's inch-perfect free-kick which set up McCarthy's winner - after an earlier cross had provided Ireland's second for substitute Jay Tabb.

Givens said: "Aiden proved that he could be a match-winner for us and he has the ability to go forward and seize things. I think in the future he may be a player who can move in and play off the front two."

Sunderland's Stephen Elliott had given Ireland a ninth-minute lead with a shot from outside the box. And they looked set to coast home as the Bulgarians offered virtually nothing until Dmitr Rangelov's 55th-minute headed equaliser. Rangelov was also on hand to cancel out Tabb's firm header with an 80th-minute penalty after a foul by McCarthy.

But the Irish were never in too much danger of losing their proud run.

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