Northern Ireland’s Under-16 development team produced some slick football to defeat South Africa in their opening game in a four-team UEFA U16 development tournament being staged in Poland this week. The other nations involved are Poland and Luxembourg.
UEFA U16 Development Tournament
South Africa U16s 1-2 Northern Ireland U16s
Northern Ireland: Braiden Graham (8’), Cole Brannigan (18’)
Osir Stadium, Police
Monday 27 March 2023
Head coach Michael McClean has a 20-strong panel at his disposal for the three matches in the tournament.
Half the squad play for Linfield and the starting line-up featured seven players from the Blues.
New faces in the squad include Leeds United goalkeeper Owen Grainger and Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Aodhan Sopala.
How it happened
The U16s started brightly on the front foot, moving the ball quickly and using dangerous widemen Cole Brannigan and Chris Atherton.
The game sprung into life in the 8th minute when Calum Burnside found himself in space and played a lovely reverse pass into the path of Braiden Graham, who produced a neat finish.
The second goal came 10 minutes later courtesy of some brilliance from the impressive Brannigan. The winger received the ball down the right, skipped past his marker and unleashed a magnificent left-foot shot into the top right hand corner.
At this stage confidence was oozing in the Northern Ireland team with Blaine McClure dictating the pace and Dylan Stitt making intelligent runs from midfield. McClure was unlucky to see a snapshot roll wide and he also had a goal disallowed somewhat controversially.
Northern Ireland continued to dominate but despite the best efforts of Burnside they could not add to their tally.
Half-time: South Africa U16s 0-2 Northern Ireland U16s
After the interval South Africa started to get a foothold in the game and put Northern Ireland under pressure, however the defence, superbly marshalled by Conor McVeigh, held firm.
To South Africa’s credit they continued to play a nice brand of possession football and got themselves back into the game when the ball was cut back for the striker to finish past the helpless Owen Grainger.
Pressure continued to mount and there were some nervy moments, however Michael McClean’s side deservedly claimed an impressive victory.
Tomorrow (29 March) the U16s will face Luxembourg at the Osir Stadium (2pm kick-off BST) and they are back in Police in north-west Poland on Saturday to take on tournament hosts Poland (9.30am start BST).
Full-time: South Africa U16s 1-2 Northern Ireland U16s
Northern Ireland: Owen Grainger, Caoimhan McDermott, Conor McVeigh, James Simpson, Conor Haughey, Dylan Stitt, Cole Brannigan, Blaine McClure, Braiden Graham, Calum Burnside, Chris Atherton. Substitutes: (used) Jack Doherty, Kenzie Beattie, Sean Corry, George Feeney, Fionn Duffy, Alex Watson, Aodhan Sopala; (unused) Josh Gracey (GK), Noah McDonnell.