Elliot Injury Sours O’Neill’s Night

Republic of Ireland Team
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The Republic of Ireland shared the spoils with their Slovakian visitors on a night that was overshadowed by what looks like a season-ending injury to Newcastle Untied goalkeeper Rob Elliot and denting his chances of a place in the Irish squad heading to France this summer. The Slovakians kept the hosts busy throughout the game. However, star player Marek Hamšík had a quiet night in Dublin in front of a quiet Aviva Stadium, which included Wales (Slovakia’s Euro 2016 Group B opponents) manager, Chris Coleman among those in attendance.

It was an entertaining first half for the 30,00o plus who travelled to the Aviva Stadium with four goals in the first 45 minutes. It was the Slovakians who went ahead thanks to an error from Paul McShane, the first of many on a bad night for the Reading defender. His mistimed header on the half way line landed at the feet of Erik Sabo, who launched down the right wing and worked his way into the box. His pass made it to Miroslav Stoch, who was unmarked and with a first touch slotted it past Rob Elliot. The Newcastle ‘keeper looked to have landed awkwardly when coming down from the attempted save.

Commenting on the injury after the match, O’Neill said that the early prognosis was knee ligament damage and that it was a huge blow to the player after rebuilding his career and confidence. He wouldn’t be drawn on speculation that the injury will bring an early end to Elliot’s season.

Two penalties in the space of two minutes, helped bring the Irish back into the game. Firstly, goalkeeper, Matus Kozáčik brought Shane Long down near the touchline with the keeper softly catching the striker on the foot. Long slotted home the penalty without haste. Not much time passed before Long burst into the area again, only for captain Martin Škrtel to bring down the Southampton striker in the area. Arguably, another soft penalty given by the referee. This time it was James McClean, who stood up and scored to put The Boys in Green in the lead.

The game started to settle and there was pressure created from both sides. Sabo added to his assist with a yellow card after a pair of late challenges on James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan. The latter having to pull away the angered Everton midfielder from the Slovakian winger.

Then as half time approached, the visitors were allowed back into the game. Peter Pekarík broke into space on the edge of the right hand side of the box. He chipped the ball before it managed to cross the line to Robert Vittek who headed it down towards goal. The ball took a detour off McShane’s chest and slipped past substitute keeper, Darren Randolph. Speaking after the game, O’Neill felt that Vittek had used his fist to guide the ball.

The game fizzled out in the second half with the tempo of both sides dropping. With the substitution of Long at half time – this gave O’Neill the liberty to play around with the team in terms of shape and test out different players. While this game may not be remembered from a fan’s point of view, it will certainly help shape the formation of the 23 man squad that will represent the Republic of Ireland at the European Championships this summer.

REP. OF IRELAND: Elliot (Randolph 15′), McShane, O’Shea (C) (Pearce 45′), Whelan, McCarthy, Long (Brady 45′), McClean, Christie, Ward (Hayes 78′), Hoolahan (McGeady 72′), O’Kane (Pilkington 66′)

Substitutes: Forde, Coleman, Keogh, Meyler, Quinn, Clark, Gleeson, Duffy, Judge, Doherty
Goals: Long (21′), McClean (23′)
Yellow Cards: McClean (66′)

Slovakia: Kozáčik, Pekarík, Škrtel (C), Greguš (Hrošovský 74′), Šesták (Weiss 63′), Stoch (Mak 63′), Vittek (Nemec 63′), Sabo (Duda 63′), Saláta, Hamšík, Švento (Tesák 88′)

Substitutes: Mucha, Dúbravka, Ďurica, Tesák, Hubočan, Ďuriš
Goals:  Stoch (13′), McShane (OG 45′)
Yellow Cards: Sabo (31′), Pekarík (63′), Greguš (70′)

Referee: Ola Ober Nielsen (NOR)

Polish loss will be a ‘big dent’ – O’Neill

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Martin O'Neill

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has admitted that defeat to Poland in tomorrow night’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifier at the Aviva Stadium will be a ‘big dent’ to the goal of automatic qualification for next summer’s tournament in France.

Speaking to media today in Malahide, O’Neill said that defeat tomorrow night ‘will be a big dent in proceedings’ in group D and his squad know that they ‘have to try and win the game.’

‘The importance of the occasion shouldn’t be missed. We played four games now and we’ve picked up seven points. I am delighted to have got something in the Germany game. Brilliant effort. Disappointing to lose at Scotland. I said all along the games at home will shape our destiny. This is the first one of a group of games. Nevertheless, a very important one against a team who have started brilliantly in the competition. It might not decide everything but it will be very important,” said the Republic’s manager.

The manager acknowledged that he has a far idea of who will be in his starting eleven but refused to divulge any names, keeping his cards close to his chest. He will name his team tomorrow ahead of the 7:45pm kick-off.

There were also mentions based on comments made by former Ireland player and assistant manager, Liam Brady, about James McCarthy and his passion in playing for the ‘Boys in Green.’

When these comments were put to him, O’Neill was adamant in his response, ‘I don’t need to question anyone’s passion for playing for Ireland. I genuinely feel that. We might not perform as well but that doesn’t mean players don’t want to play. Absolutely not,’ said O’Neill. He also noted McCarthy’s injury record and the fact the midfielder has only played once for Ireland in the past year (against Georgia last year).

O’Neill was also grilled about his starting formation. This morning’s early training session seemed to suggest a 3-5-2 formation with Stoke’s Jonathan Walters partnering captain Robbie Keane up front. The manager didn’t confirm or deny the formation. Rather, he noted that he and his staff must be aware that of any changes made to the system, the players must also be aware of it and be prepared to adapt. The manager seemed happy in the knowledge that his side were comfortable regardless of whatever system they may use.

He again repeated the point of adaptability when questioned if a 3-5-2 formation would suit Hull City’s Robbie Brady. He pointed to the fact that Brady has played in multiple formations due to his club side’s frequency to change things around.

Keane was full of praise for his potential partner, Walters. The captain said, ‘You know exactly what you get with Jon. He is very, very honest player. He makes it hard for defenders. He doesn’t give them a minute. He scores goals as well. Aside from that, he is a great person to have around. He is a good leader and it’s important to have players like that around the squad.’

As for Poland, the captain stressed that he wasn’t worried about them and that the team know everything about their opposition. He stated that it is now just a case for the players to turn up on the day and perform to the best of their ability. The captain is hoping to be named in tomorrow’s starting eleven, 17 years this week since his international debut against the Czech Republic.

Asked if Robert Lewandowski was the one Polish player to watch out for. O’Neill stressed that the opposition were not a one-man show and they had plenty of talent, capable of causing trouble to his side.

O’Neill told reporters, ‘I think he is a top class player and one of the best strikers in European football. He is playing for a side [Bayern Munich] that is capable of winning any competition in Europe. He is very, very important to them but he is not the only player.’

‘We have seen this in the group, they are not a one-man team. They have got a number of top quality individuals playing in the side, who are able to create things for them. I agree I wouldn’t just get carried away with the one player.’

Despite O’Neill’s comments to the contrary, tomorrow night’s result is make or break for this campaign. A win will help the Republic of Ireland’s cause in group D and will give them momentum heading into the next set of games in the summer. A loss will probably all but rule out Ireland of automatic promotion and they will, most likely, battle it out with Scotland for third place and a spot in the play-offs.

Keane expects a tough German response

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Roy KeaneOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

The Republic of Ireland squad were in good spirits this morning as they had a brief training session after last night’s demolition job of Gibraltar. The sole focus is now on the trip to Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday where they will meet Germany.

The World Champions suffered a shock defeat to Poland in Warsaw last night and questions will be asked in the Irish camp if they too can inflict another shock defeat to the Germans. Asked about the result and if the Germans were vulnerable, assistant manager, Roy Keane shrugged off any suggestion that home side will give anything less than 100% on Tuesday. “Football is not like that. Poland looked pretty decent and it really doesn’t change our mind-set. We know it’s going to be a very, very tough game for us,” said the assistant manager.

Asked if the loss of big name players like Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose has affected the German side, Keane was again adamant that the Germans would be still favourites to top Group D. “No. Obviously there is going to be changes there with new players coming into the group but they still have that quality and history behind them, they’re at home and they won their first game. So, I don’t think the Germans will be panicking. Far from it, I expect them to still be favourites to top the group,” commented Keane.

“It happens, you can lose football matches. You’d obviously expect a response from Germany at home. So it makes it even tougher. We’d expect Germany coming out firing on all cylinders so we just have to be ready for that,” said Keane on the anticipation that the Germans will be looking to make a statement against the Irish.

Roy also had praise for his namesake Robbie with the captain scoring his 63rd, 64th and 65th international goals on Saturday. The striker now sits atop of the all time scorers in European Championship qualifying history with 21. Roy said he always knew the Irish captain had it in him to be one of the best Irish players in history.

There were some injuries to report with Richard Keogh pulling out of the squad due to a hamstring injury while Daryl Murphy sat out the training session with an Achilles problem but Keane suggested that this was just a recovery rather than an injury that can rule him out of contention for Tuesday’s match.

As Keane suggested today, the Irish team should embrace the occasion on Tuesday rather than fear it. A lot of the talk about this group has been about Germany running away with the group. However, last night they showed that they are indeed there for the taking.

Granted, the Polish have a stronger side than the Irish and the Germans will be looking to fire back after Saturday night’s defeat but with the Irish going into the match with six points from six and confidence high in the group, the Irish could come away from the Veltins-Arena with a valuable point that will definitely shake things up in these qualifiers.

O’Neill Refuses To Look Past Gibraltar

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Republic of Ireland Team

Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

Punch-ups, voicemails and a ‘f**king p***k’ were the talking points this week in the lead up to the Euro 2016 qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar. Thankfully, this was not a bust up in the Irish dressing room rather it was the spicy details leaked from the Republic’s assistant manager, Roy Keane’s new autobiography that has overshadowed the preparations for this game.

However, manager Martin O’Neill refuses to indulge in questions about the former Manchester United skipper’s book. He would rather talk about Saturday’s match, a match in which he hopes to win ahead of the trip to Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday where they will meet World Champions, Germany.

O’Neill is refusing to look ahead though. He is adamant that his team’s focus is purely on the minnows. He knows that with a lack of focus there could be an almighty upset. “We have to win the game, it’s really just as simple as that. We have to win the match. This is very important for us. There are three points on offer, we have to go and win the game,” stated the Derry man.

O’Neill discussed how his Polish counterparts were ‘relieved’ to get the first goal in their game against Gibraltar. It had been a shaky start but the Polish really came into their own after taking a 1-0 lead into the break, they went on to win 7-0. Commenting on that game he said, “They found it difficult. They scored a host of goals towards the end of the game but they said they’d found it difficult. And I wasn’t sure what they meant until I watched the game. And, honestly, Gibraltar did cause a problem or two.”

There will be plenty of thought in regards to who makes the starting 11 on Saturday. One of the positions that will be of interest to fans and pundits alike is at right back, after Seamus Coleman was ruled out with a hamstring problem.

20 year-old Hull City right back Brian Lenihan was drafted into the squad as his replacement. It is dizzying times for the Cork man. Only a few months ago he was playing in Turner’s Cross for Cork City now he has signed with a Premier League side and could potentially make his debut for the Republic of Ireland senior team. However, the manger may be cautious to throw the new boy into the mix even though he stated that the Hull defender doesn’t look out of place in the training sessions.

Daryl Murphy will be another player looking to state his claim for a starting place at the Aviva. The Ipswich striker has scored five goals in six games, which has helped his team move into sixth place in the Championship table. The 31 year-old hasn’t started a game for the Republic since his debut against Ecuador in 2007. Since that occasion he has only made appearances from the bench, losing out to Shane Long and Kevin Doyle in partnering the perennial Robbie Keane.

With Germany ahead of them and the desire to qualify for 2016, the Irish squad will recognise that this is an important three points on offer. A slip up on Saturday for a draw, or dare say a loss, will undoubtedly dent the confidence ahead of the clash with the World Champions on Tuesday night.

Comfortable victory for Ireland as focus shifts towards Georgia

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Republic of Ireland team celebrateOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

The Republic of Ireland started the new season on the right foot as they defeated Oman 2-0 in the final friendly game ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia. However, Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill will be questioning why his squad could not put away more of the chances that were handed to his side throughout the 90 minutes.

Wednesday night saw a weakened starting XI with some of the key members of the squad left on the bench ahead of the test that awaits them in Tbilisi this weekend. However, there was a return for Everton’s Darron Gibson made a return to Aviva after being out of the squad for the last 10 months due to a mixture of injury and being disheartened by former manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

The ‘Boys in Green’ started brightly in the opening exchanges as they pressed forward in search of an early goal. However, the Oman defence packed into the box and swatted off any attack on their goal. The Irish then drifted off as Oman went on the attack. An attempted pass by Stephen Quinn was blocked by referee, Illias Spathas, and Raed Saleh picked up the loose ball and paced down the wing and onto the edge of the box. He laid the ball off to Mohammed Al Siyabi, who struck it poorly and went wide of the returning Shay Given.

The first half was marred by some sloppy play by the Irish including a back pass by Robbie Brady to Given that went out of play for a corner. There were plenty of mistimed passes made by the Irish that would have gone punished if against sterner opponents, something that O’Neill must work on ahead of the forthcoming fixtures.

However, the Republic’s game improved slightly after the 19th minute when Brady whipped in a corner that was met by Kevin Doyle. His header sailed passed Wigan Athletic keeper Ali Al Habsi and into the back of the net. The Crystal Palace man marked his 60th game in the green jersey with his 14th international goal.

There were a few more chances in between but nothing could hit the target. The best chance to put the Irish further ahead, lay to David Meyler after Brady’s cross was punched away by Al Habsi and landed at the Hull City man’s feet. His chip bounced off the upright and back into play but was cleared by the Oman defence.

The second half started much like the first ended. However, the pace picked up when the trio of Robbie Keane, Shane Long and Aiden McGeady came on in the 58th minute and gave the Irish the boost it needed. McGeady had a great opportunity to double the Irish lead, 20 minutes into the second period, but the Everton midfielder’s attempt was cleared off the line by Mohammed Al Musalami.

The attacks didn’t stop and the Irish piled on the pressure but the finishing left a lot to be desired. However, on the 81st minute, Brady’s corner was met by captain of the night, Richard Keogh, his slight tap landed to Alex Pearce and the Reading man slotted home a soft shot past Oman’s keeper.

Oman had a few chances as well but their best effort was a long through ball by Hussain Al Hadhri to Saad Al Mukhaini, which was collected by substitute keeper Rob Elliot, who replaced Given for the second half.

After the game, O’Neill commented on the performance and was happy with the win for his squad. “We needed the game and it was nice to win. We would have liked to been further ahead by half time and got the second goal earlier but we played some nice football. My concern would be that when we made a few good passes but it ended with the ball going backwards,” said O’Neill.

O’Neill also comment on the team he had for Sunday with Joey O’Brien and now, James McClean both ruled out of the clash with Georgia through injury. “I was concerned that Joey O’Brien had to go and James McClean is out now too. My concern with James is that he has not had enough game time at Wigan. I want to give him a chance to get ready for later games and not worsen the injury.”

The Ireland manager also admitted he was looking forward to the campaign and mentioned that confidence was high in the camp. “It’s a long road ahead,” claimed O’Neill, “However, we will be ready for it. We won the game tonight and took confidence from it. There was no confidence lost during the summer games. We have only one thing in mind and that is to prepare as best as possible for Sunday.”

With the 4 games before the end of the year, 3 of them away including a trip to World Cup winners Germany, O’Neill and Keane will be happy with tonight’s result but know that there will need to be some improvements ahead of Sunday evening’s game against the Georgians.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Elliot 46’), Meyler (Murphy 85’), Keogh (C), Pearce, Ward, Pilkington (McGeady 58’), Gibson (Whelan 69’), Quinn, Brady, Hoolahan (Keane 58’), Doyle (Long 58’).
Substitutes: Forde, Wilson, Coleman, O’Shea, Stokes.
Goals: Doyle 19’, Pearce 81’
Yellow Cards: Gibson 68’

OMAN: Al Habsi (C), S Al Mukhani, A Al Mukhani, Al Ghailani (Al Busaidi 58’), Al Owaisi, Al Musalani, Al Muhaijri (Al Jabri 58’), Al Farsi (Al Muqbali 80’), Saleh (Al Mashari 86’), Al Siyani, Hardan (Al Qasmi 58’)
Substitutes: Al Rushidi, Al Zaabi, Al Nahar, Al Jalbobi, Al Hadhri, Al Ihsi, Almashari.

Referee: Illias Spathas (Greece)

Man of the Match: David Meyler

Irish World Cup dream still alive after victory

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Republic of Ireland players clebrate Julie Ann Russell's goal against SloveniaPhoto Credit: Jason O’Callaghan

The Republic of Ireland Women’s slim chances of making next year’s World Cup are still intact after a solid win against a tricky Slovenia side, who, bottom of the table, were playing for pride in this Group 1 fixture.

The Irish got off to the perfect start when a late tackle on Denise O’Sullivan, just two minutes into the game, set up a free kick for Julie Ann Russell. The midfielder slotted the ball into the top right hand corner from then resulting 35-yard free kick. The Irish proceeded to dominate for the first quarter and let good chances go to waste as both Denise and Fiona O’Sullivan had shots blocked by the Slovenian defence.

Russell showed the crowd what women footballers are made of early in the game. After her stunning free kick, the UCD Waves midfielder took, what looked like, a devastating blast from the ball to the face from point blank range. However, the 23 year old got up and after a check over by the physio, was back on the pitch.

Slovenian captain, Mateja Zver led her team by example. The midfielder looked dangerous at times as she paced down the right wing. She made numerous crosses into the Irish box but there were no Slovenian players to meet them

However, the Slovenian’s best chance in the first half came in the 40th minute when Kaja Erzen headed Andreja Nikl’s cross down towards the goal. However, the forward couldn’t get it on the target and it went well wide of Emma Byrne’s goal

When the teams came back onto the pitch after half time, it was the away side who started the off better. Erzen made numerous attempts on goal in the first 10 minutes of the second period and was unlucky to find the equaliser. One attempt saw the forward beat Byrne; hit the post with the rebounding ball bouncing off Byrne’s back. Fortunately for the Irish captain, she caught the ball and her blushes were saved.

The Arsenal keeper was again spared embarrassment when Zver’s long-range effort crashed off the crossbar and went out for a goal kick. Ireland started to lack concentration and Slovenia pushed forward in an effort to bring the game all square.

Ireland had other plans though, with just less than 15 minutes left in the game, Aine O’Gorman managed to get her cross to Fiona O’Sullivan. The SC Frieburg forward chested the ball and just caught it on the volley. The ball crept past the goalkeeper, Lucija Mori and nestled into the bottom corner of the net.

Ireland sprang back into life after the goal and minus a couple of attempts by the visitors; the win and a crucial three points were Ireland’s. The win pleased the, close to, 1,500 spectators that turned up to Tallaght Stadium, which included FAI supremo, John Delaney and Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill.

Speaking after the game, Ireland boss Sue Ronan said; “We went into this game full of confidence and we started off confident and got an early goal, which should have settled us down. We played well for 30 minutes and should have got a second goal, which would have disheartened them (Slovenia). We started to get nervy and sloppy and they sensed they could get something. We agreed at half time that the tempo needed to be lifted and move faster. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. They got a bit confident and had a good couple of chances. So it was a relief when we got a good, decent cross in and Fiona (O’Sullivan) took her goal well.

The Irish manager suggested that previous results were down to the fact that most of her players are out of season and not in full fitness. “I think one of the problems we had was that are home based girls are only coming into their season now and done a lot of pre-season work, so there is some fatigue there too. Hopefully, in another three weeks they’ll have some more games and gel and match the girls who play abroad in terms in fitness, “ said Ronan.

Speaking about her plans for the future, Ronan is looking to integrate members of the U19 and give them “some experience” and had some of the members training with the team last week. She feels there is a good mix of youth and seasoned veterans in the squad.

With two important away trips next September, the final qualifiers against Slovakia and Germany respectively, Ronan and her team will be aware that tonight’s win is a building block to those trips. However, she will be happy with the recent displays by the side, and should Russia slip up in the remaining games, Canada could be a reality rather than a fantasy.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Byrne (C), Fahey, Quinn, Gorman (Littlejohn 46), Caldwell, F.O’Sullivan, D.O’Sullivan (Smyth 66), Russell, O’Gorman, Duggan, Roche (Killeen 59).
Substitutes: Reid-Burke, Perry, De Burca, Grant.

Goals: Russell 2’, F.O’Sullivan 76’

SLOVENIA: Mori, Jerina (Ketis 76), Grad, Rola, Nikl, Zver (C), Kos, Marolt (Kralj 51), Erzen, Zganec, Tibaut.
Substitutes: Vamberger, Sevsek, Erman, Rogan, Siljak.

Yellow Cards: Marolt 21’, Zganec 43’

Referee: Linn Anderson (Sweden)

Ronan keen to build on form against Slovenia

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Meabh De Burca training while Sue Ronan looks on

Photo Credit: Jason O’Callaghan

The Republic of Ireland Women’s team manager, Sue Ronan is looking to build on the performances shown in June against Croatia and Russia when her side take on Slovenia in a World Cup qualifying game at Tallaght Stadium on Wednesday night.

A 1-0 win at home against the Croatians and a 0-0 away to Russia helped keep the “Girls in Green” in contention for a play-off spot. They will need to win on Wednesday night to keep that dream alive. Ronan knows that despite victory in the reverse fixture, the Slovenians will be no pushover.

“We deserved to win against Croatia even though it was a tough game and our draw away to Russia could easily have been a win so we want to build on those results next week against Slovenia. We played them away last October and I still believe that was our best overall attacking display and we comfortably won 3-0. However, this is a new game and I expect it to be another tough one for us,” said Ronan.

There is some positive team news with defender Seana Cooke returning to the squad after an 11 month absence through injury. Reading’s Grace Moloney has also been drafted into the squad as a third choice goalkeeper. They replace Raheny United’s Rachel Graham and the American-based defender Mary Therese McDonnell. Millwall’s Sophie Perry, who was forced to withdraw from the games in June against Croatia and Russia after suffering concussion in a club game, is also included.

There are places in the squad for veteran players, Emma Byrne (captain), Niamh Fahey and Aine O’Gorman. Denise O’Sullivan, who scored the winner against Croatia in June, also has a place in the squad of 20.

Furthermore, Ronan stated her intentions to invite some of the members of the successful U19 squad, who reached last month’s UEFA European Championship semi-finals, to train with the senior squad next week.

“I was in Norway and there are a few of them on my radar. Some of the U19 squad, like Clare Shine, were with us in La Manga in January while five more were part of the squad I took to Spain to play the Basque Country in May. Unfortunately, there is no U21 grade in women’s football so it is a big jump from U19 to senior international football but we have managed to bring through a lot of the U17 squad from 2010 over the last few years and we will be hoping to do the same with the U19s. What they achieved was tremendous and it is exciting to think that 12 of the squad are underage next year,” said Ronan.

With three games left in Group 1, the Irish are five points behind second placed Russia and 13 points behind group leaders, Germany. They have a game in hand over their German counterparts. The Irish will need the Russians to slip up in their future fixtures against Slovakia, Croatia and Germany, win their remaining fixtures and hope that they can manage to rank as one of the top four best second placed teams. No tall task for the Irish team.

The game on Wednesday night will be the last home game of the campaign and the team will undoubtedly be looking to finish the home portion of the qualifiers on a high before travelling to Slovakia and Germany in September to complete a year-long effort to book their plane tickets to Canada next year.

Kick-off for the game at Tallaght Stadium is 7:30pm and admission is €5 for adults and €2 for students and U16s.