European Championship preview: Ireland

The International Rugby League programme kicks off this weekend, and at, we’re supremely excited about internationals taking centre stage once again. But as well as the Four Nations – which actually begins next weekend – there’s the small matter of a European Championship tournament with potentially huge ramifications for the winner.

It was announced yesterday that should Ireland or Wales win the four-team tournament, they will actually qualify automatically for the World Cup in 2017 – Scotland and France are already seeded for the event.

And we’re going to be looking ahead to the event by previewing each nation this week; after starting with our look at Wales and their chances, we’re now hopping over the Irish Sea to assess Ireland’s chances!

The Key PlayerShannon-McDonnell-Saints
Ireland are without a large chunk of their contingent who played in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, including the likes of Pat Richards and Marc Sneyd, so attention will be on Shannon McDonnell to deliver the goods for Ireland in the European Championship. McDonell has just been released by St Helens after a short-term deal at the club, and will be keen to impress this Autumn to earn himself a deal in time for the 2015 season.

The Coach
Mark Aston coached Ireland in last year’s World Cup, and with his experience, the Irish cannot be ruled out when it comes to the European Championship. They performed admirably in a ridiculously tough group at the World Cup in 2013, and with the prize of automatic qualification for the 2017 event at stake for either Ireland or Wales should they win the tournament, Aston will have his troops ready for a big few weeks of international action.

The Squad
Matty Hadden (Antrim Eels), Casey Dunne (Athboy), Michael Russell (Barnhall), Sean Hesketh (Batley), Wayne Kelly (Belfast Met Scholars), Haydn Peacock (Carcassonne), Jobe Murphy (Dewsbury), Elliot Cosgrove (Keighley), Luke Ambler, Callum Casey (Halifax), Robbie Mulhern (Leeds), Bob Beswick, Stuart Littler, Greg McNally, Michael Platt (Leigh), Josh Toole (North Bears), Callum Mulkeen (Oxford), Apirana Pewhairangi (Parramatta), Sean Casey (Rochdale), Shannon McDonnell (St Helens), Brendan Guilfoyle, Graham O’Keefe, Lemeki Vaipulu (Treaty City Titans), James Toole (Tweed Heads), Danny Bridge (Warrington), Brad Hargreaves (Wigan St Patricks), Colton Roche, Pat Smith (York), Will Hope (unattached)

Their Chances
Liam Finn wasn’t part of the initial squad, but could yet make the cut if a planned operation gets cancelled. That would be a huge boost for Aston and Ireland, but even without the Castleford half-back in the ranks, they still have an outside chance of lifting the trophy come next month.