Former Cork City defender Jake O’Brien is convinced that Ireland’s U21s can get KO on Italy and Sweden in decisive European Championship qualifiers
JAKE O’BRIEN could have been a boxer – but now wants to floor Italy and Sweden this week to lose hope of Ireland’s Uefa final.
Ireland’s U21 year olds have weighed in for a big week when the Azzurri visit Tallaght on the Friday before the Swedes arrive the following Tuesday for two qualifying parties.
Boys in Green is in need of a top two place in the group but took a standing count when they lost points with a draw in Luxembourg and a loss in Montenegro.
And poor results this week could mean that the towel is actually thrown in with four games left next year.
But Crystal Palace’s midfielder O’Brien is adamant that Italy and Sweden could be hit by homemakers.
He said: “With the players in our squad, we are definitely capable of that.
“We will push for six points. We can, we have guys who play in the Championship every week.
“We have to respect the Italian team they have, but we will try to be at the forefront by giving them the game. We will not respect them too much that we will sit back and let them play all the football. We can play football too.
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“Italy is a really attacking team that will try to get down on its wings, but we are capable of sorting it out.”
The former Cork City defender also wants to make an impression with his first Irish international at any level against Bosnia-Herzegovina in September.
The 6-foot 6-inch star, 20, explained: “I have been a late bloomer.
“When I was growing up I did all the sports, between hurling, football, boxing, but when I was 15 I had to pack it to concentrate on football. I was little when I was growing up. I put down three or four years of hard work and it paid off.
“I played for Youghal, a big club and for Cork up to U-14. We won the All-Ireland title and I packed everything after that. I also won a national boxing title and thought about continuing with that as well.
“I was called into the Irish squad but packed it up.”
Could he have been to the Olympics in Tokyo this summer?
He added: “Maybe. But I’m in a better place now. Football was definitely my No. 1. I had to make the call to focus on my football career.”
O’Brien, who recently signed a new contract, hopes he can impress Palace’s first-team manager Patrick Vieira.
The Cork guy said: “He is very helpful to the youth players. Towards the end of the season I will try to break through and show what I can do. During the pre – season, half of the squad had come through the youth team.
“I have trained a lot with the first team and have seen the standard.
“The whole style is about holding the ball and it suits me.
“I see myself as a ball-playing midfielder.”