Premier League side Crystal Palace have completed the signing of Northern Ireland under-21 defender Kofi Balmer from Larne for an undisclosed fee.
The 21-year-old, who has put pen to paper on a one-year deal with the south-London outfit, made his Irish League debut in 2017 aged just 16 and went on to make 154 appearances for Ballymena United and Larne over the subsequent five seasons.
“It’s surreal. I feel amazing,” Balmer told the Palace website. “It’s every boy’s dream to play football professionally, but to come to a club like Crystal Palace with all the top quality facilities – I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Palace Academy Director, Gary Issot said: “We are delighted to welcome Kofi to the club. He fits the profile of young, hungry and talented players that we want at the club and he has already amassed a wealth of experience in Northern Ireland for both Larne and Ballymena.
“He joins a talented U21s squad and will provide stiff competition in the defensive area of the team.”
Balmer, who has 20 caps for the Northern Ireland under-21 side, played 106 games for his first club Ballymena United before switching to full-time football with Larne last summer.
While naturally disappointed to lose the services of the talented central defender, Larne boss Tiernan Lynch wished the player well as he ventures into the world of full-time football in England.
“We’re obviously disappointed to lose a player of Kofi’s quality but this is a move he has very much earned,” Lynch told the Larne website.
“He is a quality young player and someone who has demonstrated that throughout his time at the club. He has been an important part of our defence during his Larne career, and has also popped up with some important goals.
“Kofi came into work every day with a determination to improve his game and has got his reward with this next step on his journey,” he added. “He has a great attitude and that will serve him well for the rest of his career.
“We wish Kofi all the very best at Crystal Palace and will obviously be watching on as his career continues to progress.”