Stephen Bermingham’s Cork City U19 side must become the first Irish club side to win on Italian soil if they are to prolong their Uefa Youth League campaign this afternoon.
City’s youngsters head into today’s game against AS Roma at the Stadio Tre Fontane (ko 2pm Irish time) looking to overturn a 3-1 deficit from the first leg, when two late goals put a dampener on a fantastic Leeside performance. However, regardless of today’s outcome, the visitors have already made history as the first underage League of Ireland side to compete, and progress, in European competition.
A place in the play-off round is at stake in the Italian capital, which will see the teams who progress from this round via the ‘domestic champions’ pathway take on the second-placed teams in the ‘Champions League’ group-stage pathway for a place in the quarter-finals.
Bermingham’s side, unlike full-time Roma, have been fitting in training five days a week around studying for exams to keep standards high across the three-week gap between legs. A mammoth task ahead of the Cork outfit, but having gone unbeaten throughout the regular season, won the cup, and already dumped out Finnish side HJK Helsinki, confidence is still high in the camp.
“It’s going to be an unbelievable experience for the lads,” said Bermingham. “We’ve seen how good they really are in the first leg and we put in an excellent performance at home. It’ll be an unbelievable chance to go over to Roma and play against such a big club.
“We respect how good they are, but we have a new plan in place again. The lads know the tie isn’t over, obviously we were very unfortunate to lose 3-1 having missed a penalty to go 2-1 ahead, but we have no fear heading over there.
“Before the first leg we always believed we were as good as anybody, there were definitely nerves at the start of the game but we still performed exceptionally well. I don’t think they knew what to expect heading into the game, and got a huge shock with the intensity and tempo that we’ve played at.”
That performance, among many others, is not going unnoticed by those at the highest level and Irish underage managers at several age groups, along with the FAI High Performance Director Ruud Dokter, were in attendance at the first leg.
Bermingham continued: “One of the main things we try to do within the club is to keep good links with the Cork Schoolboys League and we certainly acknowledge the work that has been done by not only the clubs but the schoolboy academy as well. Clubs are beginning to see, with the likes of the games against Helsinki and Roma, how players that have come through their academy are now able to play at the highest level with City, putting these players in the spotlight. Roma’s manager said after the first leg about how well we played, and for a manager who every week faces against the top teams in Italy to say that about us shows how far we’ve come.”
CORK CITY XI v Roma (Probable):
D Coffey; P Phillips, C McCarthy, A O’Sullivan, K Taylor; C Coleman, A Byrne; D Fernandes, D O’Riordan, C Ogbene; A Drinan.
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