- Monday March 20th, 2017 @ 19:49
"It's A Great Feeling" - Brian Maher On Qualifying For U17 European Championships
Brian Maher kept three clean sheets in three games this week to help the Republic of Ireland U17s qualify for the European Championships in May.
Brian and fellow Super Saints Richie O'Farrell and Luke Nolan were a part of Colin O'Brien's team that beat Faroe Islands (4-0), Slovakia (1-0) and hosts Cyprus (2-0).
Goalkeeper Maher spoke to stpatsfc.com from the Ireland team hotel in Cyprus after their third win in a row on Monday.
"It's a great feeling to qualify. Our aim has been to win every game since the beginning of the season meaning qualification for the European Championships in May and we've done that now which is brilliant."
"It's been what all of our work this season has been for. To get the reward at the end is great. We've gone unbeaten in our six group games in the qualification process so far, so that's a bonus to be the first team to do that."
The young boys in green began their week last Wednesday with a 4-0 win over the Faroe Islands thanks to two goals from Aaron Connolly and one each from Adam Idah and Jordan Doherty.
Brian started that game while Richie came on shortly after half-time.
Glen McAuley scored the winner in their 1-0 victory over Slovakia two days later which actually clinched qualification with a game to spare.
Connolly scored both goals to beat Cyprus 2-0 on Monday.
Luke and Brian played the full game, while Richie came on at half-time.
Our former St Kevin's Boys goalkeeper outlined their plan at the beginning of the week.
"We said from the start of the week that we wanted to win every game and to qualify with a 100% record so it's great that we did it especially with the completely different type of teams that we played against. Having got through with a game to spare took a bit of the pressure off us heading into Cyprus but we still wanted to win it."
Head Coach Colin O'Brien and his staff hold regular team meetings before and after games. Brian outlined what happens during the meetings and what benefits they can bring when it comes to the matches.
"You learn a lot in all the team meetings that we have during the week. We have one or two meetings every day and the coaches go through the different aspects of our game and our game plan. They are very beneficial in the games themselves as we have a good plan and that's been proven in the results. We did a lot of work on defending set pieces and we didn't concede from them is really pleasing."
He kept three clean sheets and made important saves in each of the games. He says setting himself that goal before the tournament helped.
"My personal challenge at the start of the week was not to concede in any of the three games. If we kept three clean sheets, it was always going to give us a much better chance to qualify because we've such good attacking players in the squad. It was important we did a good defensive job as a team, especially in the third game where we were pinned back and did really well on the counter attack to beat Cyprus 2-0."
But how close did he come to missing the competition and the start of the season with St Pat's with a back injury?
"I've had bad back problems which began towards to end of last season and they've still been annoying me at times which is hard to take. I've not been able to train all the time with St Pat's and Ireland. Jamie and Colin along with the medical teams have had to manage my load which has been frustrating. I had to see a couple of specialists, scans and tests so I was delighted that it didn't stop me playing the three games this week and hopefully it keeps improving for the coming season."
The draw for the U17 European Championships takes place next month and Ireland could face some of Europe's best teams.
It's not something that Maher and his team-mates are worried about.
"The momentum we have now is really good at the moment. We've qualified with a 100% record and haven't lost a game at Under 17 international level yet. Everyone is very confident and excited for the Euros now, we can't wait for the draw next month."
"We're not afraid of any of the so called 'bigger' teams because we can give any team a good game as we've shown with our results and performances so far."
Change Of Focus
Brian's focus is now back on club action.
He says training with the U17s, U19s and our first team has helped him get in the best possible shape for the new season, and the Euros.
"I've been in training a lot with the first team, especially when I've school breaks. It's a big step up in standard for me as I'm a lot younger than most of the players, some of them are twice my age! Everything is a lot quicker and the players kick the ball harder which is a good test for me.
The goalkeeping training with both my own team and the first team has been of a really high standard which makes me a lot more prepared for games both at club and international level. It's good to be around people who have such high standards as it pushes me to train harder and makes me improve."
Brian, Luke and Richie were all part of our U17 league winning team last season.
The Saints scored the most goals in the country and conceded the least as they won the SSE Airtricity U17 Elite Division title, beating UCD 2-1 in the final.
The 16 year old is looking forward to starting the league season this weekend.
"I'm buzzing to get back to Pat's this week and get going on our season against Derry this weekend. We are planning to make a good start and take the three points back to Dublin if we play well. Our goal is definitely to go one better than last year and play the best football in the country. If we do that, we'll hopefully win some trophies. We've a lot of new players in the group this season so hopefully they'll settle in quickly and we can get a good run going."