Written by Nairn County FC December 17th 2015

THREE Nairn County players will watch their countries take part in the European Championships this summer and having heard Sean Webb appraise Northern Ireland's hopes, it is now the turn of Conor Gethins to run his eye over the draw for the group stages from a Republic of Ireland perspective. The Republic's first match is on Monday June 13th against Sweden at the Stade De France in Paris before they take on Belgium in Bordeaux on Saturday June 18th. They round off their Group E campaign with a game against Italy on Wednesday June 22nd in Lille. Gethins, who hails from Lifford in County Donegal, said: "It is probably the toughest group they could have asked for. Regardless of Italy not having any real standout world stars anymore, they are still going to be a tough team. Sweden are the sort of team who can go out and beat anyone on their day, as you saw in the game they thrashed England at home when (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic scored that overhead kick and then you have Belgium, who are the number one team in the world now. They could actually go and win the whole competition because the players they have are frightening." He added: "Ireland are Ireland – they are a team who just grind out results. I do not think they have won many games 3-0 or 4-0 over the last few years because it always seems to be a case of having to grind out the result, like they did against Germany in the qualifiers. It will be interesting though and I am looking forward to it." Gethins believes the Irish can take hope from that playoff-clinching victory over the Germans when they defeated the world champions in Dublin before progressing into the tournament at the expense of Bosnia and Herzegovina over two legs. The striker said: "Germany are the world champions just now and the talent they have is incredible. That result just shows you that Ireland can be quite stubborn, especially when they have the fans behind them. They will take thousands and thousands and thousands of fans with them to France, like they did when they qualified for the last Euros." "You never know what can happen. If you can win your first game then you might sneak through, although I do not know if anyone in Ireland will be holding out much hope." "It will be a big game against Sweden in the first game but they are a funny team – on paper, you would look at them and think they are beatable but when you look at one or two of the players they have, they can really hurt you and they are quite sturdy in defence as well. They are much like Ireland – one of those teams who will sit and grind out results and are capable of taking points off any of the other teams in the group." Gethins represented his country at under-19s and under-21s level with his highlight being a two-legged victory over a Dutch side packed full of future world stars. He revealed: "It was a European qualifying playoff for the under-19s and in the Holland team was (Arjen) Robben, (Wesley) Sneijder, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Nigel De Jong. When you look at where they are now, you see what a great team that was. I had a photo of me and Robben both running down the line – back in those days I was probably just as quick as him but not anymore! "We beat them 2-1 away at Excelsior's stadium in Rotterdam and drew 0-0 in Ireland to qualify but me being me, I was injured when the tournament came around, which was a shame. I dislocated my shoulder with a month to go and we got England in the group as well. That was at the time when they had (Jermain) Defoe and Shaun Wright-Phillips in their team but we beat them 2-1." Gethins has played alongside a few of the players in the current Ireland squad but identifies one that he played against during his spell with Finn Harps in the League of Ireland as a key component of the side. He said: "I played with Kevin Doyle when I was younger and against Seamus Coleman back in Ireland. He was a great talent and you could tell then that he was player that could step on in his career. He was not great defensively at that time but he was like what he is just now going forward – he would just take off and beat three or four players. You can see that he has had top level coaching at Everton because his defensive side has come on leaps and bounds and he is probably one of the best right backs in the Premier League now." "Glenn Whelan is probably the one in the squad I played with the most. He is a really good guy as well as being a good player." He added: "Jonathon Walters is also a big player for Ireland. He does not do anything brilliant in games but he gives you 100 percent. He is just a handful and is somebody to hit. You see that in the Premier League where he causes defenders all sorts of problems." "I played against Wes Hoolahan in Ireland as well. He is a very, very clever player. He drifts into holes and you just cannot get near him. He has never been the quickest and I used to run him down the line when I played against him and he could not deal with it but once he got the ball, he was one of those guys who could pick up a wee space and score a goal very easily." "I think the back four and the goalkeeper are the ones who are going to have to perform to their best at this tournament. If they can do that then there are players in the Ireland team who can go on and nick goals." Gethins is anticipating a large number of supporters to follow his compatriots at the tournament but he intends to watch the action unfold from the comfort of his own home. He stated: "I think there will be more Ireland fans there than anyone expects. There could be well over 50,000 there very easily. I do not know whether events in Paris last month will deter them or not but I still think that the numbers going from the Republic will be just scary. It is not a million miles away, is quite cheap to get to and Northern Ireland are there as well – let's just hope they do not clash!" "I was planning to go over but I think I will just settle for sitting at home and watching it." Graeme Macleod

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