The two play-off matches to determine a team to represent Northern Ireland in the next edition of the UEFA Regions’ Cup are set to be staged this month.
Teams from Eastern Region (from clubs affiliated to the Co Antrim and Mid-Ulster FAs) and Western Region (from clubs affiliated to the North-West and Fermanagh & Western FAs) will battle it out in Armagh and Castledawson to earn the right to represent their country on the amateur international stage.
Both 20-strong squads have been chosen following a series of trials conducted by Ballinamallard United manager Harry McConkey, who has managed Northern Ireland’s junior international side (featuring junior and intermediate level players) for well over a decade.
And McConkey will be in charge once again when the overall winners of the two play-off matches represent Northern Ireland in the UEFA Regions’ Cup this autumn.
Holm Park, home of Armagh City FC, is the venue for the first game. It’s being staged tomorrow (Wednesday 16 March) at 7.45pm.
Matchday two is on Wednesday 23 March at Moyola Park FC’s Mill Meadow ground in Castledawson.
The UEFA Regions’ Cup competition for amateur international teams was not played in 2020-2021 due to the Covid pandemic.
However, it’s back for 2022-2023, with Northern Ireland hosting an intermediate stage mini tournament in October as part of the qualification process.
Northern Ireland’s opponents this autumn will be regional teams representing Wales, Czech Republic and Sweden (dates and venues TBC). The winners of the four-team tournament will go forward to the finals in the summer of 2023 (dates and venues TBC).
The junior international team last took part in Regions’ Cup qualifiers back in the autumn of 2018 in a mini tournament that was also staged here. Northern Ireland won against Moldova but lost narrowly to representative teams from Portugal and Russia.
After this month’s play-off matches McConkey and his coaching team, including assistant Gerald Boyle, will work with the winning squad and prepare them to represent their country at the mini tournament in October.
The squads for the play-off matches are:
Goalkeepers – Richard Purcell (Ballyclare Comrades), Lewis Deane (Knockbreda).
Defenders – Dan McMurray and Scott McMillan (both Harland and Wolff Welders), Aaron Rogers and Owen McConville (both Annagh United), Matthew Devine (Larne Tech OB), Sam Dinu (Ards), Andrew Martin (Banbridge Town).
Midfielders – Patrick Downey and Richard Gowdy (both Newington), Ciaran Dobbin (Ballyclare Comrades), Leon Bonnes (Queen’s University), Nathan Johnston (Knockbreda), Charlie Dornan (Harland and Wolff Welders), Barry McKervey (Crumlin Star).
Forwards – Anthony Burns and Nathan O’Neill (both Knockbreda), Alan McMurtry (H&W Welders), Dylan Wilson (Comber Rec).
Goalkeepers – Alan Buchanan (Dergview), Ray Kelly (Maiden City).
Defenders – Jack Mullin and Hugh Carlin (both Limavady United), Lee Warnock and Darragh Byrne (both Ballinamallard United), Lee Forgrave (Portstewart), Rhys McDermott (Institute), Johnny McKeown (Dergview), Ronan McBrearty (Strabane Athletic).
Midfielders – Kealan McDermott (Maiden City), Kyle Eakin (Newbuildings), Conal Crawford (Strabane Athletic), Gary McFadden (Limavady United), Reece Byrne (Ballinamallard United).
Forwards – Peter Campbell and Simon Warrington (both Ballinamallard United), Philip Wallace (Dergview), Matthew Pierce (Newbuildings), Declan Martin (Portstewart).