Republic of Ireland Under-21 manager Noel King is certain his side will face a stern test from Hungary in their opening UEFA under-21 European Championship Group 7 qualifier at the Showgrounds in Sligo tomorrow (Thursday) (7.30pm).
Ireland head into their competitive series buoyed with a 2-1 victory over Austria in their final friendly match, also played in Sligo, three weeks ago.
King has enjoyed the opportunity to work further with his players since they assembled on Monday in the run-up to this fixture. They can expect, though, to meet a visiting side equally intent on getting their campaign off to a positive start.
He said: “I feel we’ve got a strong squad here, including a senior international, and with a bit of luck and good preparation, we can get a decent performance and result against Hungary.
“Still, Hungary will be a stiff test for us. They have a great football tradition and play very direct with a big centre-forward. They could give us problems.
“From our perspective, the manner of the victory against Austria last month, when we came back from a goal behind, said a lot about the character within the group.
Nothing will be decided by the outcome of this game, given it’s only our first match, but it would be a great start to put some points on the board this early.
“The Under-19s did well at the European Championships in the summer and hopefully we can continue that and get a buzz going.
“There is no extra pressure on us, apart from the pressure we put on ourselves, and I know from dealing with these players that they want to do something special in the group.”
King has replaced injured Crystal Palace striker Sean Scannell in his squad with Conor Hourihane of Plymouth Argyle.
Following Thursday’s game, the Irish travel to Izmir on Saturday ahead of the second instalment in the double-header against Turkey in Manisa on Tuesday. The tournament finals will be in Israel in 2013.
Republic of Ireland Under-21 Squad
Ian McLoughlin (MK Dons)
Aaron McCarey (Wolves)
Lanre Oyebanjo (York City)
Shane Duffy (Everton)
Gavin Gunning Dundee United)
Rob Kiernan (Wigan Athletic)
Niall Canavan (Scunthorpe United)
Aidan White (Leeds United)
Richie Towell (Hibernian FC – on loan from Celtic FC)
Mark Connolly (Bolton Wanderers)
Adam Barton (Preston North End)
Conor Clifford (Chelsea)
James McCarthy (Wigan Athletic)
Jeff Hendrick (Derby County)
Conor Hourihane (Plymouth Argyle)
James Collins (Shrewsbury Town)
Robbie Brady (Hull City FC – on loan from Manchester United FC)
Rhys Murphy (Arsenal)