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Tuesday 21 May 2024
U14s register five wins at tournament in Netherlands

A Northern Ireland Under-14 development team performed strongly at a major youth tournament in the Netherlands.

Last year Northern Ireland U14s won the inaugural Den Bosch International Tournament after defeating Belgian side Club Brugge in the final.

This year they had to settle for runners-up position, however they once again put in some fine performances at the event in the Dutch city of ’s-Hertogenbosch. They won five out of their six games.

Head coach Michael McClean chose a 21-strong squad - the bulk of the players are on the Irish FA’s National Performance Programme - to compete at the tournament, which featured European academy sides such as Sporting Lisbon, Club Brugge and Bologna.

McClean’s team were initially drawn in a group with IF Kolding (Denmark), Asane FC (Norway) and FC Volendam (Netherlands).

The team got off to a good start with a 1-0 win over IF Kolding thanks to a goal from Alfie Mulvenna.

In their second game on day one they had to come from a goal down to defeat Asane 2-1, with goals from Liam Kelly and Jamison Rainey.

Northern Ireland finished off the day with a 3-0 win over Volendam, the goals coming from Preston McKeown, Michael Mulholland and Rory Prenter. They topped their group to advance to the quarter-finals.

In the last eight they were drawn against Odense (Denmark) and it was a game which proved to be a tight affair. It finished 0-0 with the U14s advancing thanks to a 3-2 penalty shootout win.

In the semi-finals they played a strong Club Brugge team.

Brugge took the lead early on, however Northern Ireland reacted well and drew level thanks to a well worked team goal finished off by midfielder Adam Nelson.

McClean’s side pushed for a winner but in the end the teams could not be separated and the game was decided by another penalty shootout.

They won the penalty shootout 3-2 once again thanks to an excellent stop from Matthew Belshaw, who was eventually named goalkeeper of the tournament.

In the final Northern Ireland came up against Italian side Bologna, who defeated Sporting Lisbon in the other semi-final.

The final was a tight and tense affair. Northern Ireland took the lead from the penalty spot following a handball in the box. Mulvenna calmly converted the spot kick.

However, Bologna came back into the game and went 2-1 up after scoring twice from the penalty spot.

The young Northern Ireland team pushed hard in the final third of the game to find an equaliser but the Italian team held on to win it 2-1.

Afterwards Michael McClean said: “The tournament was a good learning experience for the players. For many of them it was their first experience of being away from home and on an international camp.

“They came up against teams from different countries with different playing styles and they had to learn to adapt and solve the different problems that each team presented.

“Overall, considering the players have only been together for five weeks, there were plenty of positives to take from the camp.”

Northern Ireland U14 development squad: Pheonix Blayney, Alfie Mulvenna, Zach O’Hara, Jude Crawford and Jamison Rainey (all Larne), Adam Nelson, Rory Prenter, Mason Ayre and Jay Forsythe (all Glentoran), Bailey Magee, Austin Gault and Alfie Pollock (all Glenavon), Matthew Belshaw and Ben Mercer (both Linfield), Liam Kelly and Preston McKeown (both Derry City), Daniel McCarron and Brayden McNally (both Dungannon Swifts), Conor Wilson (Coleraine), Michael Mulholland (Crusaders) and Lukas Doherty (Finn Harps).