Northern Ireland’s Under-18 Schoolboys international team will warm up for this year’s Centenary Shield competition with friendlies against Australia and Jersey.
And the first of those matches is taking place next Monday (23 January) when they take on an Australia U18/U19s team at Blanchflower Stadium in east Belfast (3pm start).
The newly formed 18-strong squad and new manager Simon Nicks will be aiming to get the year off to a good start against difficult opponents.
Nicks said: “This is always an exciting time of year with the U18 group as it signals the start of the really serious preparation for the Centenary Shield.
“We have come through numerous trials and training sessions and have now got a group of players who are looking forward to the challenge.”
The new manager also paid tribute to the previous U18 Schoolboys manager Frankie Wilson, a well known and respected figure in football circles within Northern Ireland who sadly passed away in October.
Wilson, who was just 52 when he died, had been in charge of the U18 Schoolboys team since 2013. And he won the Centenary Shield with them in 2019, while they shared it with England in 2017.
Nicks explained: “It is particularly poignant that we come into this year's matches without our dear friend, mentor and manager Frankie Wilson. He was a great advocate of Northern Ireland schools’ football and of the U18 side in particular.
“His loss is sorely felt in many areas and by many people and we will do our best to uphold his legacy. He was a truly brilliant man who helped so many of us and lit up a room with his infectious personality.”
The U18 Schoolboys squad will travel to Jersey in February to play two friendly games (6 February and 8 February) against Jersey Select teams before the Centenary Shield kicks off in March.
First up in the Shield competition is a home game against Scotland at the Blanchflower Stadium on Thursday 2 March (7pm start) followed by a trip to Wales on Thursday 23 March. They will face the Welsh at Briton Ferry Llansawel AFC’s ground near Swansea (7pm kick-off).
Next up is a home encounter against the Republic of Ireland on Thursday 30 March (7pm) and the Blanchflower Stadium will once again be the venue.
Their final game of the Centenary Shield campaign will see Nicks’ team take on England away on Friday 14 April. The venue is still to be confirmed.
The Northern Ireland U18 Schoolboys squad for the year is as follows:
Goalkeepers – Rian Brown (Larne High School/Larne), Ryan Kerr (Breda Academy Belfast/Crusaders).
Defenders – Kyle McCloskey (St Columb’s College Derry-Londonderry/Derry City), Logan Wallace (Belfast Metropolitan College/Cliftonville), Odhran McCart (Larne High/Larne), Callan Farley (Ashfield High Belfast/Glentoran), Ben Walker (Larne High/Larne), Sean Brown (Larne High/Larne).
Midfielders – Adhamh Towe (St Ronan’s College/Dungannon Swifts), Ben McGonigle (St Columb’s College/Derry City), Joshua Ness (Grosvenor Grammar Belfast/Cliftonville), Connor Armstrong (Limavady Grammar/Coleraine), Diego Esquivel McGann (Linfield Academy/Linfield), Jake Martin (Limavady High School/Coleraine).
Forwards - Michael Morgan (Rathmore Grammar Dunmurry/Cliftonville), Charlie Chapman (Breda Academy/Carrick Rangers), Luca Doherty (Limavady Grammar/Coleraine), Sean Moore (Belfast Met/Cliftonville).
Image: Coleraine striker Luca Doherty, seen here playing for Northern Ireland U18s against Manchester United U18s at SuperCup NI last summer, is among the 18 players included in the Northern Ireland U18 Schoolboys squad for this year’s Centenary Shield campaign.