U15 players at the Irish FA JD Academy are travelling to Belgium in April to take part in a training camp and to compete in friendlies against Belgian club sides.
The five-day trip is part of a collaboration with Belgian club Oud-Heverlee (OH) Leuven, which is hosting the JD Academy boys and coaches through its academy. Some U15 players from the Irish FA’s National Performance Programme will also be in the travelling party.
The visit to Leuven, from 4-8 April, is set to include training focused on individual player development among other topics.
Coaches from both academies will take practical sessions and there will be a coach education session to share best practice.
Andy Waterworth, Head of Elite Player Development with the Irish Football Association, said: “This will be a great trip for the boys. It will be a shared learning experience for our coaches and players. It will provide an insight into Belgian culture and how young players advance in Belgium.
“We are keen to enhance development opportunities for our players on continental Europe. This trip shows we are willing to go further afield than the UK and Ireland to help our players develop.”
The collaboration with the Belgian club has evolved from a study visit to the OH Leuven Academy back in November. Waterworth, Irish FA Technical Director Aaron Hughes and Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson took part in that visit.
“We are hoping to build a relationship with Leuven to share knowledge so that we can continue to give players as many opportunities as possible to develop,” he added.
On 6 April, as part of the visit, the JD Academy U15s will play challenge matches against teams from Koninklijke Sint-Truidense Voetbalvereniging (Sint-Truiden or STVV) and OH Leuven. Both clubs’ senior teams are in the Belgian Pro League.
And on 8 April they will come up against an OH Leuven academy team once again as well as the U15s from Lommel SK, a club which plays in Belgium’s second tier.
The Irish FA JD Academy in collaboration with UEFA is Northern Ireland’s only full-time residential academy for young footballers.
It is focused on developing emerging talent at school years 11 and 12 (U15 and U16) and its main objective is to produce better players through a mixture of sporting, school and life skills education.