The sun came out for the Boys in Green on Tuesday as the Republic of Ireland squad held an open training session at the Aviva Stadium.
The warm weather only added to an already feverish atmosphere as supporters young and old gathered to catch a glimpse of their heroes as preparations for Euro 2016 gathered pace.
As well as the fans, the players seemed in good spirits as the countdown to France rolled on with just under three weeks until Ireland’s opening game against Sweden at the Stade de France.
On a less positive note, defender Ciaran Clark sat out training, along with midfielder James McCarthy, but speaking to the media afterwards the Aston Villa man was quick to banish fears, as he explained:
At the end of season I had a little knock that I was carrying into the trip and I just wanted to make sure it was alright before getting into the swing of things. It’s my ankle. It will be fine.
Clark was joined at the press conference by fellow defender Shane Duffy who is under no illusions about the size of the task involved in ensuring a place in manager Martin O’Neill’s final 23-man squad.
Already, four players (Johnny Hayes, Alex Pearce, Paul McShane and Anthony Pilkington) have been demoted to the standby list while defender Marc Wilson has been ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.
Wilson’s misfortune may yet prove positive for Duffy who has garnered recent praise from O’Neill but is adamant that his place on the plane isn’t assured just yet, saying:
It’s one of those things where I’m quite lucky to be here. I’ll just try my best this week and hopefully if the manager decides to pick me I’ll be delighted but it’s still a long way away. It’s a big week for me and hopefully I can do well.
It would be a dream come true to play in a major tournament. That’s what you want to do when you’re a professional footballer. Obviously I’ve got a bit of work to do. I’ll just put my head down and try and focus and see what happens.
On the other hand, Clark would be forgiven for feeling that he will play a significant part at the tournament having impressed with assured performances in both legs of the qualification play-off with Bosnia-Herzegovina back in November.
Stepping in for John O’Shea, the 26-year-old developed a solid partnership with Richard Keogh and it now appears the three players are vying for two berths at central defence.
Clark spoke of feeling more confident at international level following those performances and if chosen to start he said that he wouldn’t have a preference as to who he was partnered with.
It was nice to play the two games against Bosnia and to win them was obviously brilliant. It does give you a lift of confidence and like I said I’ll try and be confident no matter where I’m playing.
To be honest they’re (O’Shea and Keogh) both experienced players. There’s not much difference at all no matter who I’ve played with. Everyone’s used to playing with each other and we’ve all got a good bond so it doesn’t matter who goes out there and plays.
If selected, this would be a first major tournament for both Clark and Duffy and the latter spoke of his memories of watching Ireland’s Euro 2012 capitulation from afar, recalling:
I was sitting watching it, thriving to get to the next one. I’m happy how it’s going at the minute. I probably wasn’t ready four years ago. I was watching the lads and you want to go out and represent your country.
I thought I want to try my best to get to the next one.
When reminded of assistant manager Roy Keane’s long-held view that Ireland should be going into international tournaments with a view to winning them Clark chose his words carefully as he said:
The squad is full of confidence at the minute and we want to take that into the tournament. We’re not going to say anything outrageous but we’re just going to get our heads down, work hard and believe. Take each game as it comes. If we can get something from the first game then great, we’ll push on. That’s all we can do.
One hopes Roy will satisfied with that answer. Clark and Duffy will both be hoping for a chance to impress the management on Friday night as Ireland play host to the Netherlands at the Aviva as the 2016 European Championships edges ever-closer.
After receiving such a warm welcome from the fans on Tuesday for what was only a training session, imagine what it the atmosphere will be like for the last match at the Dublin venue before the serious stuff begins in France.