Ireland U17 manager Colin O’Brien is optimistic that the Cork public will be keen to see the stars of the future at the upcoming European Championship qualifying games at Turners Cross.
Ireland will host Andorra, Montenegro, and Israel in Cork next month, and O’Brien believes that the strong follow-through of players to higher grades underlines how well the country’s youth system is working at present.
“In 2016-17, we played preparation games here with our U17 group,” he said.
“In that team was Lee O’Connor, Kameron Ledwidge, Conor Coventry, Adam Idah, and Aaron Connolly, all of them have played U21 and Aaron has gone on to get senior caps.
“For the public, it is a chance to see these up-and-coming players and it’s a chance to connect with them at an earlier age-group and see the potential that we have in this country.
“For the last number of years, we’ve had a philosophy identity with the youth set-up. It’s something that has continued between each age group. Every manager makes his own decisions with regard to players and strategies for certain games, but we have good communication, which is very important, but you can see that with the way players have moved on.”
Turners Cross and Cobh Ramblers’ St Colman’s Park will host the six group games, and O’Brien will be proud to take charge at the venue he graced so much as a player with Cork City.
“It could have been in any of the four countries, but we’re delighted that the FAI put the best foot forward to host it here,” he said.
“[Cork] was one on my wishlist when we were looking at venues and people behind the scenes made it work.
“For the time of year, you’d look at the venues available and Turners Cross would always come to mind as one of the top venues in the country and then you need two venues within a region, and St Colman’s Park is available too.
“It’s the end of the domestic season so it’s the ideal opportunity to play. There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes for a host venue to actually host it, but Cork ticked the boxes. All of the four teams will be staying at Fota Island Resort so it’ll be a very professional set-up for all of the players.”
That, ultimately, is what he sees as being the bottom line.
“It has a big impact on the season for us,” O’Brien said. “Over the last few years, since games have been shown, people have been seeing U17 and U19 teams playing in finals — but this is where it starts.
“A lot of work has gone since U15s, but these are the first competitive games. At the moment, there are a lot of competitions going on around Europe and we’re looking forward to coming to Cork.
“It’s a great privilege to manage your country, but then to do so in your home city is an extra bonus — but it’s going to be very much about the players.”