European Championship Preview: Ireland

Ireland embark on their European Championship game with a bucketload of adversity to face, whether it comes to players, facilities and wider support from the sport in general.

The Ireland rugby league team seem to be cursed by bad luck when it comes to selecting personnel. Their list of potential players is devastated each year by those players then being picked by England.

As with the other squads in this tournament, many Irish-qualified players have simply not put their hands up for selection, often coming under pressure from clubs and coaches.

Kyle Amor, Chris Bridge, Ben Harrison, Ben Currie, Tyrone McCarthy and Pat Richards are among the eligible big names who will not be wearing green this autumn.

Ireland are also without halfback Liam Finn, one man whose commitment to the Irish cause is never in doubt. Sadly, Finn is injured.

This has made coach Mark Aston’s task a difficult one, as he freely admits.

“The end of the season came too quickly for me, at Sheffield, it was a little bit disappointing,” he told Love Rugby League.

“This has been a tough challenge over the last three or four weeks to try and put all this together as well.

“You can imagine what it’s like trying to get players to commit and clubs to support.

“But we’re going to have a group of players who want to play for Ireland, and want to do the right thing, and are passionate about it.

“Are we going to have the ideal preparation? No.

“We’ll get on a plane on Thursday morning, and we’ll fly into Dublin, drop our bags off and go out on the training field.

“We’ll do a session, we’ll do another session on Friday afternoon, and then we’ll play.

“We’ll give it our best, because the players that are committed want to play, and that’s important to me.

“It’s not easy when the finances aren’t there to do what you want to do.”

There is a spirit about the Irish squad, though, which to more romantic observers conjures up something of another Ireland squad coached by a Northern Englishman. That was Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland soccer team.

As with Aston’s group, that was a disparate band of mainly second and third-generation Irishmen who managed, with a unique spirit and a touch of luck, to shock the world several times over.

Aston will be hoping that this squad can do likewise. Scanning the personnel, though, it may be very tricky for him if injuries strike.

What Ireland do have is a core of players from Leigh Centurions, however. Players like Gregg McNally and Bob Beswick will play important roles for the squad, offering leadership and quality in key positions.

Coach Profile:

Ireland‘s biggest asset might well be the enthusiastic Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston. A wily character with a good eye for spotting talent and potential, Aston usually produces very well motivated teams. Ireland will not lack for pride or passion on his watch.

“We’ve got a nucleus of players who have been with me a while,” Aston said.

“There’s Luke Ambler, Bob Beswick who’s going to be the skipper, because Liam Finn‘s injured.

“But Liam will be with us, as part of the coaching staff, which is important, because he was part of the World Cup and he wanted to play so much, but through injury he can’t.

“Obviously Jack Charlton did it all those years ago. We’re going to rock up, we’re going to play and we’re going to put our bodies where they need to go.

“We’re going to be proud and passionate about it, and hopefully the people of Ireland will get behind us and come and watch us.

“At the end of the day, it should be the pinnacle of the sport, and we don’t always get the support we need.”

Player to Watch:

Rob Mulhearn is one of the few players in the squad to have played Super League this season, having played three games for Leeds Rhinos. A powerful prop forward, who has been capped by England at youth level, his power and aggression will be needed by Ireland in the middle unit. His brother Frank is a Republic of Ireland soccer international at Under-21 level.

Love Rugby League Prediction:

With a reliance on so many amateur, home-based players, this tournament is going to be a tough ask for the Irish. Home games against Scotland and France may well make their task a little easier, but the trip to Wales will be the game that they are really targeting. Sadly, for those players who have shown such commitment to the Irish cause, it is hard to see anything other than a fourth-placed finish.

Ireland Squad:

Matty Hadden (Antrim Eels), Casey Dunne (Athboy), Michael Russell (Barnhall), Sean Hesketh (Batley), Wayne Kelly (Belfast Met Scholars), Haydn Peacock (Carcassonne), Jobe Murphy (Dewsbury), Elliot Cosgrove (Keighley), Luke Ambler, Callum Casey (Halifax), Robbie Mulhern (Leeds), Bob Beswick, Stuart Littler, Greg McNally, Michael Platt (Leigh), Josh Toole (North Bears), Callum Mulkeen (Oxford), Apirana Pewhairangi (Parramatta), Sean Casey (Rochdale), Shannon McDonnell (St Helens), Brendan Guilfoyle, Graham O’Keefe, Lemeki Vaipulu (Treaty City Titans), James Toole (Tweed Heads), Danny Bridge (Warrington), Brad Hargreaves (Wigan St Patricks), Colton Roche, Pat Smith (York), Will Hope (unattached)

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