The Irish Football Association’s development programme for young elite players, JD Club NI, has hit the ground running in 2018.
A busy schedule for the year ahead, across age groups ranging from under-10s to U17s, got under way with a residential for 2003s in Antrim last week.
An extensive training schedule for 2002s to 2006s is set to begin at the Mid-Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown, while the JD Club NI Performance School at Integrated College Dungannon and three regional centres across Northern Ireland will host sessions for 2006s to 2008s.
JD Club NI players will be participating in various tournaments across Europe over the next 12 months, from the Rotterdam Cup in the Netherlands to the Madrid Cup in Spain.
However, the emphasis this year across most of the age groups is to participate in games in Britain where Northern Ireland players’ talents can be spotted by full-time professional clubs in England, Scotland and Wales.
The first competitive action for the 2005 and 2006 groups will be games against Rangers in Scotland at the end of next month. The 2004s will also be playing the ’Gers and Motherwell at that time followed by a trip to the West Ham Cup in London in late March.
A game against Brighton’s Academy in Brighton will be the first competitive action for the 2003s at the end of February.
The 2003s in particular have a busy competitive schedule as they build towards representing Northern Ireland in this year’s Victory Shield. The schoolboys’ tournament, in which they will compete against Scotland, Wales and Republic of Ireland U16s, is due to be staged in the Republic in October.
Matches against Slovakia (away), Austria (home), Finland (home) and Estonia (away) plus participation at the Rotterdam Cup, SuperCup NI and Erasmus (Spain) tournaments will give them plenty of game time in the run-up to the Shield tournament.
The 2002s, meanwhile, have a tough opener to the year when they travel to face Belgium in March. That trip will be followed by a UEFA U16 Development Tournament which is being staged in Northern Ireland the following month.