Caheragh native Liam Murray was a part of the Republic of Ireland U17 team that recently topped their European Championship qualifying group.
Wins over Andorra (5-0) and North Macedonia (2-0) and a 2-2 draw with Poland ensured Colin O’Brien’s side booked their place in the UEFA Elite U17 European qualifying stage which begins early next year.
Representing the Republic of Ireland at international level is a daunting experience for any 17-year-old.
The Cork City player has adapted well since receiving his first call up and is thankful to have a manager from his native county at the helm.
‘My manager Colin O’Brien being from Cork has been huge for me,’ Liam Murray told the Southern Star.
‘Having four other lads from Cork City in the squad has been a big help as well. Colin is a brilliant coach and brings out the best in you. He is always honest. David Myler is involved as well (in the Irish management setup), another Cork man!’
It was a hectic but enjoyable fortnight as the Republic of Ireland U17 team utilised home advantage and terrific support to finish top of the group. Murray’s Cork City U17 team mates also made their mark in an Irish jersey over the past fortnight.
Irish captain Cathal Heffernan enhanced his reputation as an emerging centre-back during the recent qualifiers.
The same can be said of Mark O’Mahony who netted in each of his last four U17 international appearances.
City’s Franco Umeh has also been in superb form as part of an international squad that has delivered positive results under Colin O’Brien.
‘The banter is always flying with four Cork lads in the Irish squad,’ Murray admitted.
‘All the players mix very well but having four Cork lads in the squad has made it easier to settle in. You’d have the craic with those lads regardless. There’s just a great chemistry in the squad right now.
‘Coming on (as a substitute) against Andorra, at Turner’s Cross as well, was unreal. Having my family and friends there as well as the home crowd behind us was just an unbelievable feeling.
‘It has been a huge step up but it is a real honour to play for Ireland and something I love doing. The intensity (of international football) is huge, the quickness of the game and the fitness needed. A lot more understanding of the technical side of the game is needed too.’
Overcoming Andorra and North Macedonia without conceding a goal was as impressive as the Republic coming from 2-0 down to earn a draw with Poland. Clearly, Colin O’Brien is developing an Irish U17 team that is confident on the ball and improving with every match.
‘The lads worked very hard all week,’ Murray said.
‘We watched a lot of clips of our opponents in the analysis rooms. Obviously, going 2-0 down to Poland was disappointing but the lads kept their heads up and kept fighting.
‘Justin Ferizaj brought us back into it by scoring a great free-kick. Then, Mark O’Mahony got a fantastic goal to make it 2-2. It was a great press by Mark and that’s something (pressing) we had been working hard on in training with Colin O’Brien. It is always nice to see that work paying off.’
Completing three internationals in quick succession stretched the Republic of Ireland squad to its limit. That’s where the depth of Colin O’Brien’s setup shone through and helped Ireland qualify for the Elite U17 European Championship phase.
‘We got a massive boost the way the Irish fans got behind us. Going back to the hotel after the games and sitting down to dinner, the lads would always comment on how much the crowd got behind us at Turner’s Cross. The Cork crowd was brilliant in helping us push through.
‘Looking at Caoimhin Kelleher and Chiedozie Ogbene doing so well for Ireland at senior level is also a boost. We have an extremely talented Irish U17 team and you can see the talent coming through. Now, Ireland will be a top seed in December’s Elite U17 Phase draw and our next international qualifiers take place next March.
‘Colin (O’Brien) has told us that this is only the beginning of a long journey to the European U17 Championship finals.’