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Thursday 04 Jul 2024
U19s boss McAuley believes his team can ‘do something special’

Northern Ireland Under-19s manager Gareth McAuley insists his players can shine on the U19 Euros stage this month – if they believe in themselves.

The former international defender, who will name his squad for the eight-team tournament next week, feels his side can “do something special” when they come up against Europe’s elite teams at U19 level.

The Irish Football Association is hosting the 2024 UEFA Under-19 Men’s European Championship from 15 to 28 July along with European football’s governing body.

McAuley’s U19s have been drawn in Group A where they will play holders Italy, Ukraine and Norway, while Group B features Spain, France, Turkiye and Denmark. Group matches are being staged in Belfast and Larne, with the semi-finals and final taking place at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.

The U19s boss said: “If you tell yourself you can do something then there’s a chance you can do it. If you tell yourself you can’t do something then you are not going to do it.

“It’s about getting them (the players) to believe in themselves, to make the right decisions both on and off the pitch.”

McAuley, who made 80 appearances for Northern Ireland during an international playing career that spanned 14 years, was appointed boss of the U19s last August having previously worked as a coach with the Northern Ireland U17 and U19 age groups after retiring from the game in September 2019.

Northern Ireland’s first game in this summer’s tournament is against Ukraine at Larne’s Inver Park on Monday 15 July (7pm).

Next up it’s Italy for the hosts on 18 July at Inver (7pm) followed by Norway on 21 July at Seaview in Belfast. It’s also a 7pm kick-off.

The U19s boss said he has to make his players understand just how big a tournament it is, with the best of the best at U19 level coming to Northern Ireland.

“It is not going to be easy, however if they apply themselves properly then we will be competitive and will have a chance of getting out of the group,” he insisted.

Intensity has been a hallmark of Northern Ireland teams in the past and he revealed “desire and intensity” is a given in his team.

He pointed out scouts from big clubs across Europe will be attending and watching the games.

And he added: “This is a fantastic opportunity for our players to show what they can do.”

It will also be important for the players to play in front of their families and the Northern Ireland supporters, according to McAuley.

He said: “It will allow the supporters to see who is coming through, and it will be good for the supporters to see what we are doing.

“It’s massive to feel the support. It’s part of every player’s development to connect to the supporters. I believe the boys would thrive off it, would love it. They would really appreciate the fans coming out and creating an atmosphere.”

He said his players don’t have to look too far for inspiration, noting what happened when a young Conor Bradley made a crunching tackle during a World Cup qualifier against Switzerland at the National Football Stadium in September 2021.

McAuley said: “One of the highlights for me was Conor’s tackle in front of the fans when the stadium erupted.

“I can only imagine the feeling he would have got off that and the lift he would have got off that, and just the connection he got off that. He would never forget that.”

Bradley, who turns 21 this month, enjoyed that moment not long after making his senior international debut in a friendly against Malta in May that year at the age of just 17. The game against the Swiss was his competitive debut for the senior team.

Michael O’Neill’s senior team are currently in a period of transition, according to McAuley, and that means opportunity knocks.

And the former West Bromwich Albion, Ipswich Town, Leicester City and Lincoln City defender, who began his playing career in the Irish League with Crusaders and Coleraine, believes there are players in his U19s squad who will force themselves into the senior manager’s plans in the not too distant future.

He says it is a key part of his role to push players forward up the pathway. He notes there are already plenty of U21 players in the senior squad - “with more to come”.

“If it’s harnessed properly across the board then there could be a golden generation coming again to bring a lot of good times back to the country, to the country’s football,” he said.

McAuley, who recently completed his UEFA Pro Licence, is enjoying his first stint in management.

“For me personally it’s nice to be a part of it, to help the kids and try to put them in a position where they are able to handle it once they get the opportunities,” he said.

“The opportunities are there for them. There are opportunities for more and more players to get into the senior squad.”

Naturally, he will be urging them to perform on the U19 Euros stage ahead of any potential elevation to the seniors.

He promised that both he and his backroom team will provide them with all the necessary information and details to compete against - and get results against - their opponents in this month’s tournament.

And his message to his young players ahead of the U19 Euros is simple: live in the moment and go and do it – and don’t have any regrets afterwards.

To buy tickets to U19 Euros matches go to