BLACKROCK'S Alan Browne has vowed that his focus will be on Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers this next week despite his disappointment at the news that Alex Neil, his manager at Preston North End, has left the club.
Preston are on a worrying run of results that is in danger of sucking them into a relegation dogfight in the English Championship and it was reported on Sunday afternoon that the manager, the club only confirming that they had “parted ways”.
Browne, who has been at Deepdale for a decade and only signed a new contract to keep him at the club until the summer of 2024 in January, only discovered the news shortly before speaking to the Irish media this afternoon.
“I was pretty gutted earlier” said the Cork native.
“He has been fantastic for me and my career, a lot of the lads at Preston as well. He did a fantastic job and us, as players, ultimately, we let him down.
“He's not the one going out on the pitch but he's the one taking the criticism, so its gutting for me, but I’m here in the camp now and need to put all my focus on that and worry about that when I get back to my club.”
Ireland get their campaign underway in Belgrade on Wednesday and Browne, suspended for Preston’s game against Luton Town this weekend, could play a major role given the absence of the injured James McCarthy.
A versatile midfielder who has also played right-wing back with his club, Browne spoke of his desire to help his country qualify and emulate the feelgood factor that gripped the nation in 2002 when Mick McCarthy’s side made the finals and he was only seven years old.
Portugal are strong group favourites but Serbia away is a difficult opening assignment and it will be followed by a home game against a Luxembourg side that is a far more difficult proposition than their sides of old.
Learn more Azerbaijan complete the pool.
"It's a tough group. Any group would have been, any selection of teams. It's international football so it's always going to be a tough one.
“On paper people will probably rule us out, if we're being realistic, given our recent result. We haven't been doing well enough so I'm sure the critics will have already ruled us out.
But us as a team and a nation, we're always ones to thrive off this and be the underdog and come out on top, and that's what we're looking to do. We've got to be as optimistic as possible.
“We're going into every game to win it, be in no doubt about that. That's what we've always done and we want to live up to teams that have gone before us, getting through to the big games and the big stages. We want to keep that going.”