Stephen McCarthy with the Republic of Ireland team for the 2010/2011 UEFA European Championships Finals

A personal account from Sportsfile’s Stephen McCarthy on his return from Bucharest, Romania, from the 2010/2011 UEFA European Championships Finals.

“Who would have thought it… Republic of Ireland in the top four of Europe!

After being based inside the Republic of Ireland camp for the past 15 days, the thought of going home before the final is heart breaking. The players, coaches and staff have all been such a pleasure to be around as my colleague, Pat Murphy, and I have transmitted the story of the Republic of Ireland’s journey through the 2010/2011 UEFA European Championships Finals, in Bucharest, Romania.

My first interaction with the team was on their arrival in Henri Coanda International Airport. The players did at first seem a bit taken back by the sight of Irish media greeting them but as professional footballers they maintained their serious game-faces.

As part of our duties as the tournaments official photographers we captured the official team picture and headshots of the 18 man squad ahead of the opening game as well as some more offbeat moment surrounding the portrait session.

The build up to Ireland’s opener was overshadowed by the torrential rain, thunder and lightning at Buftea and the surrounding areas. However, at the end of the night Ireland’s 2-1 victory, courtesy of an Anthony O’Connor brace, was all that mattered.

During the tournament, between each match day, the Sportsfile photographers must keep the Irish media up-to-date with the team’s journey. One of the mediums in which this is conveyed is through player features. Each day FAI Press Officer Fran Whearty offers two to three players for photo opportunities. While Bucharest is referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’ the areas surrounding the team hotel can only offer so much!

As sport goes it is not all jubilation and celebration every day, and following the second match day it was my job to tell the story of Ireland’s defeat by Czech Republic through the images of dejection.

After being in the hotel for so many hours on end each day the players sometimes venture out for a walk, and often see the quirkier side of every day life in Bucharest, such as John O’Sullivan and Jeff Hendrick’s take on sun-hats!

The final group game had plenty of permutations, even as strange as ‘win and they could go home’, and ‘loose and they could go through’! Playing the host at a full house in Berceni was never going to be easy. In a nail biter which could have went either way Ireland held out for the scoreless draw to secure a place in the semi-final, with much credit going to goalkeeper Aaron McCarey, who duly obliged with some fantastic scenes of relief at the final whistle.

In the build up to the semi-final against the powerhouse of European and world soccer Spain, I continued to capture the team’s preparation in training, at the grounds of Concordia Stadium, Chiajna, the venue of our semi-final, and the final. The temperature was certainly a factor for photographer with highs of 38 degrees in the build-up, however for the players, the impact was not so damaging. The players ease around the camera was also changing, with silly poses being replaced with game-faces!

The Irish journey came to an abrupt end at the semi-final with Spain hitting our boys for five, in the last four of the competition. Spain’s freshness and quick passing and movement kept Ireland on their toes from the outset but the rout began on 27 minutes and with some of the most exciting young talent in the world on show the Spaniards continued until Alvaro Morata picked up his second of the night in injury time, from the spot, to make it 5-0.

Although it was a night to forget, it was a tournament to remember. After watching the lads train and play together I think we can expect a few household names in the coming years from this squad.”

– Stephen McCarthy, Sportsfile.