With the nation's sport on a high, Michael Kightly hopes the U21s can continue the feelgood factor in Ireland.
Republic of Ireland v England
2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifier
8pm, Tuesday 16 October 2007
Turner's Cross, Cork
After watching England dramatically upset France in the Rugby World Cup, Michael Kightly hopes the feelgood factor currently sweeping the nation will continue when the Under-21s face the Republic of Ireland in Cork.
The Wolves winger watched in amazement as Phil Vickery's men silenced the Stade de France before flying to Ireland for the young Lions' latest European qualifier.
"I watched the rugby in my room with Matt Derbyshire and Andrew Surman," said the 21 year old. "We did not look like we were going to go anywhere in the competition so to get to the final is a massive achievement. Hopefully we can go one step further and win it."
England's phoenix from the flames performance at the World Cup has paralleled Kightly's career in football.
Setting out with grand ambitions, his dream of playing League football lay in tatters after Spurs and Southend both cast him out into the wilderness. But just like Brian Ashton's resilient troops, Kightly stubbornly refused to lie down and triumphed in the face of adversity, signing for Wolves from Conference side Grays Athletic before being called up for the Under-21s last August.
"It proves that if you get a knock back you can return from that and go better," said Kightly. "You can prove people wrong. That's always been an aim of mine. I wanted to prove people who doubted me wrong."
Kightly's international aims appeared shot while he plied his trade in the Conference until Mick McCarthy took a punt on the talented winger less than 12 months ago.
"I was in for treatment on a sore calf when I got a call from the Grays chairman," he recalled. "He said Mick McCarthy had been on the phone and Wolves are going to put an offer in. My heart was beating as fast as anything, I just did not believe him. I said 'are you sure it's Mick McCarthy?'
"I thought I might get a League Two club, or if I was lucky a League One team, but to get a club like Wolves come in, I could not wait to get up there.
"It's a massive club, a Premiership club. It blew me away when I went up there. I went to the training ground and saw the big black gates with the Wolves sign. I thought it's a bit different to what I had been used to. I used to train at a school with Grays. I could not wait to sign."
Going from the Conference to the Championship is a Bob Beamonesque leap, yet Kightly made a seamless transition.
After making his debut, ironically at Southend, a club who had released him less than two years before, Kightly wowed the Molineux faithful during his first home game, winning the man of the match award to spark a fine run of form which would see him score nine goals in 26 appearances.
"I found the level of football alright," he said. "I went out without any fear and didn't play any different to how I played in the Conference. I scored a few goals and came runner-up in the Player of the Year. I didn't get struck by nerves or the big scene. I just enjoyed it."
The Wolves fans were not the only ones taking notice. Newly installed Under-21 Head Coach Stuart Pearce was also impressed and selected him for the August friendly with Romania.
"I saw I was selected on Sky Sports News," said Kightly. "It was the first I heard about it - I was buzzing. I just could not wait to get involved. I gave myself aims and after a good season, I thought I might have a chance if I could follow it up. I was surprised though.
"I was a little bit nervous about meeting up with the squad. There are a lot of Premiership players playing in a higher division than me, week in, week out. But they are a good bunch and everyone gets on well."
After starting against Romania, Kightly has since made two substitute's appearances as England clocked up three successive European Qualification wins. His latest outing was on Friday during the 1-0 win over Montenegro.
"It's been an unbelievable year, a fairytale really," he said. "I heard the commentator say during the last game that a year ago I was playing against Tamworth in the Conference. To play for England in an U21 game is what dreams are made of."
Reaching Euro 2009 is another dream which Kightly wants to fulfill and a win over Ireland on Tuesday would go some way to achieving his latest ambition.
"It's going to be a tough game," he predicted. "Along with Portugal and ourselves, Ireland are one of the best teams in the group. But it's going to be hostile and they have some good players.
"Ireland are a proud country and they would love to beat England, but no more than we would like to beat them. Both teams will be up for it."