This week marks the 17th anniversary of Ireland’s Under-16 team winning the UEFA European Under-16 Championships in Scotland. The Irish team managed by Brian Kerr and Noel O’Reilly beat Italy 2-1 in the final on 8th May 1998. This followed an impressive run to the final which included wins against Finland, Spain, Denmark and Portugal.
This Thursday, an Ireland Under-17 team will return to the same tournament  with aspirations of following in the footsteps of their 1998 predecessors. Given that Irish underage teams have struggled to qualify for the finals of tournaments since the success of Kerr’s teams in the late 90’s, this current crop already appears to be one worth keeping an eye on. Whilst it is too early to determine how successful the players in the current squad will be in their own individual careers a cursory glance at the 1998 squad illustrates how productive an underage team can be.
The 1998 Vintage
The Irish Under-16 team in 1998 comprised a group of players that Brian Kerr once predicted would produce more full internationals than any of his other underage teams. There may be a certain degree of accuracy in Kerr’s prediction, depending on how one measures the productivity of an underage team. The team produced eight full internationals although the relative success of the individuals varies.
The goalkeeper for the team was Joe Murphy of Tranmere Rovers who went on to win two full international caps and was called-up to a number of senior squads between 2003 and 2010. The success of the team was built around a strong central defence, which included two Waterford men, John O’Shea and Jim Goodwin. O’Shea subsequently signed for Manchester United and has since gone on to win over 100 full international caps, whilst Goodwin has spent most of his career in Scotland and won a single international cap under Mick McCarthy in 2002. John Thompson of Nottingham Forest also played in defence and like Goodwin only achieved a solitary full international cap.
The midfield was packed with creative talent that promised much, but was ultimately unfulfilled. Graham Barrett was considered by many experts to be the most technically gifted of the Irish players. He led Arsenal to the FA Youth Cup in 2000 before playing a handful of first team games under Arsene Wenger. He won six full international caps, but his career was plagued by injury. Liam Miller spent time at both Celtic and Manchester United, with the highlights comprising some impressive cameos in the Champions League. He won 21 caps for Ireland, which included a goal against Sweden in Steve Staunton’s first game in charge. Andy Reid was the youngest player in the Under-16 squad and played on the left wing. He has since won 29 caps for Ireland, but his career suffered during a period in which he was out of favour with Giovanni Trapattoni. A fourth midfielder, Jonathan Douglas, also went on to win full international caps. The Monaghan man possessed less technical ability than Barrett, Miller or Reid, but he carved out a decent career and played eight times for the Irish senior team.
The biggest disappointments from the Under-16 squad were perhaps the two goal scorers in the final; Keith Foy and Dave McMahon. Foy had a cultured left foot and made the breakthrough as a young player at Nottingham Forest. At one stage, he looked like he might be the solution to Ireland’s on-going difficulties at left-back. However, his career suffered for a variety of reasons and he eventually ended up at Monaghan United. McMahon was an old-fashioned centre-forward in the mould of Niall Quinn. He had spells with a variety of clubs in Scotland and the Northeast of England, but his career never took off.
The 2015 Crop
The 2015 squad travel to this year’s European Under-17 Championships in Bulgaria facing the daunting prospect of playing the Netherlands, Italy and England in Group D – the Group of Death. They qualified for the tournament in March by finishing second in a group that included Poland, Greece and Belarus. Tom Mohan’s squad for the tournament features a mix of home-based and English-based players.
Anthony Scully of West Ham United is highly rated, whilst the goals of Jamie Aherne (Lucan United) and Joshua Barrett (Reading) were crucial in qualifying for the tournament. It is also worth keeping an eye on the Wolverhampton Wanderers pair of Connor Ronan and Conor Levingston who have impressed in previous underage fixtures. Both players are also at a club with a good track-record of developing young Irish players.
Mohan’s team will look to get their campaign off to a positive start with a result in their opening game against the Netherlands, before meeting Italy in their second fixture and finishing the group phase against the defending champions England. From a supporter’s perspective, one of the benefits of facing the big guns is that Ireland’s games against Italy and England will be televised live on British Eurosport 2.
Thursday, 7 May 2015
Republic of Ireland v Netherlands (11.00am Irish time)
Sunday, 10 May 2015
Republic of Ireland v Italy (2.00pm Irish time)
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
- Author: Alan Hannify
- In 2002, the European Under-16 Championships was renamed as the Under-17 European Championships. This was more reflective of the age of the players taking part in the tournament. Whilst most players were 15-16 when the qualification process commenced, they were 17 by the time the finals of the tournament were held.