One of the quiet success stories in Irish sport over the past 18 months has been Colin O’Brien’s under-17 men’s international football team.
The Boys in Green breezed to their second successive Euros with an incredible six wins from six in qualifying – the best record in Europe.
Ireland will be seeded when then the draw for the finals – which take place in England next month – is made on Thursday.
And, rare enough for an Irish football team of any stripe, will make the trip across the Irish Sea with a genuine belief they can win the tournament.
Ireland’s only previous tournament wins at underage level are the under-16 and under-18 Euros wins that came with Brian Kerr’s golden generation in 1998.
Much of the focus this year has been on the phenomenal form of Cork goalscorer Adam Idah – who scored seven goals in three games in the first round of qualifying.
The star of the elite round in Poland last week was Southampton midfielder Sean Brennan, who scored in the wins over Macedonia and Georgia that guaranteed qualification with a game to spare.
The Blanchardstown teenager has been a full-time member of the Saints academy – one of England’s most celebrated – since July, having spent much of the past year travelling back and forth.
The 16-year-old is part of a new generation of young Irish footballers who are combine quiet confidence in their ability with the humility and hard work they’re traditionally associated with.
“We’re all very confident and upbeat because we haven’t been beaten in a long time,” Brennan tells the Dublin Gazette following his return to the south coast of England.
“We want to go into the tournament and take it game by game and see how far we can get. We obviously know that we have the potential to win the tournament.
“If we don’t go into it thinking we’re going to win, what’s the point?”
Brennan is the son of the former Shelbourne midfielder Anto Brennan, and his dad has been a constant source of encouragement for the blossoming creative talent.
“My dad played for Huddersfield for a few years. He’s been very good for me since I started playing.
“He’s kept me grounded and told me what I’ve done well in matches and what I need to improve on.”
Having started out with local side Hartstown Huntstown, he moved to his dad’s old team Belvedere as an eight-year-old and stayed there until making the move to Southampton at 16.
Brennan chose Southampton because he had a good feeling the moment he walked in the door, and they have a track record for giving chances to young players.
Ireland under-19 international Michael Obafemi was the latest to benefit from that when he made his debut in the Premier League against Tottenham, and Brennan feels the opportunity is there.
“If you’re good enough you play. That’s the way it is here. You’ll keep going if you’re good enough and that’s an exciting thing to know.
“All you have to do is work hard, keep your head down and play well in games.”