RORY HALE is hoping the Republic of Ireland’s in-form Derry City contingent can steer the Boys in Green to a crucial U21 European Championship qualifier victory in Tallaght Stadium tonight.
Noel King’s U21 squad take on bottom of the table, Azerbaijan in a Group 5 qualifier as they look to cement second spot behind leaders, Germany. (K.o. 7.30p.m.)
Rory and his brother, Ronan both announced themselves on the international scene when scoring on their U21 debuts as Ireland warmed up for tonight’s crunch qualifier with a 3-1 victory over Iceland in Dublin last Thursday.
And City striker, Ronan Curtis bagged the ‘man of the match’ award having added the assist for Rory’s opener after just 14 seconds.
It was a blistering start to Rory’s Ireland U21 career and he was delighted the Candy Stripes trio ‘put Derry on the map’ with that performance. He’s hoping they can do similar ‘damage’ in south Dublin tonight.
“It was brilliant for the three of us,” beamed the City midfielder. “Myself and Ronan getting our first games and getting on the scoresheet with big Curtis working hard as usual and helping me out with the goal.
“It helps the League of Ireland and puts Derry on the map as well. Everyone has been talking about it. Hopefully we’ve done enough and can play on Tuesday.”
They say good things come to those who wait and it’s been a long and frustrating journey for Rory who has come back from a devastating cruciate injury sustained six years ago and his subsequent release from Aston Villa.
He’s rediscovered his love for the game and his best form since arriving at Brandywell via a short spell with Galway United and after his first taste of U21 action, it’s simply whet his appetite.
“It’s been a tough year with me being released and then Ronan not getting a sniff at Birmingham. Mentally, it’s been a tough year for both of us.
“But it looks like everything is coming together now after a good month. Hopefully it continues for the rest of the season and we can keep doing our family and ourselves proud.
“You wouldn’t have thought I’d be an U21 international if you went back six years ago. But hard work pays off and no one works harder than myself and the wee bro.
“If you don’t believe in yourself no one will. I have that confidence and self-belief in myself, that I’m going to be the best player on the pitch every time.
“I hadn’t been able to play because the team had been doing so well in the group. I knew when I got my chance I was going to have to take it and I got off to a flyer getting one in the first 10 seconds.
“It was knocked up long to big Curtis and I knew he was going to win the flick-on. So I gambled. It was early in the game and I managed to get that twist and turn in the box and finished if off. It was like a blink of an eye.”
Having won three of their five Group 5 games so far, Ireland are in a strong position at the halfway mark.
The group winners automatically qualify for next summer’s tournament in Italy with four of the best runners-up earning a place in the play-off round. And so Rory is fully aware of the importance of tonight’s match.
“This is a must-win. We conceded in the last minute against Norway and lost 2-1 which let them back into the group to try and get that second place. Azerbaijan are bottom and you’ve got to beat the smaller nations if you are looking to compete with Germany and Norway.
“Hopefully all three of us are back in the team on Tuesday night to do the damage against Azerbaijan.”
A win at Tallaght Stadium will put them within two points of Germany, ahead of games against Kosovo and Germany in September.
And manager, Noel King wants a big support on the night,
“If I was a football person in Dublin tomorrow night, it is only a fiver and it is free for children, I’d be coming straight up,” he said last night.
“A chance to go and watch the next generation, the likes of Josh Cullen, Kieran O’Hara and Declan Rice, in a crucial qualifying match, I’d be straight up to Tallaght Stadium tomorrow.
“The team have had a great campaign so far and deserve the support. We’re right in the mix for qualification and need to make sure we get a crucial three points.”
Tickets for the Azerbaijan game are priced at just €5 for adults. It is FREE for U16s, OAPs and FAI and Shamrock Rovers Season Ticket Holders and tickets are available via Ticketmaster and on the gate at Tallaght Stadium.