My young guns can reach major finals: Robinson
Published 14/11/2013 | 09:30
Stephen Robinson believes that Northern Ireland's teenage talent can spark a new era of success for the country.
And he isn't scared by the challenge of making that happen.
The former Tottenham and Luton Town midfielder doubles up as under-17 and under-21 manager and with both teams in action tonight, the younger age group has taken priority.
That's because those responsible for nurturing the young talent in Northern Ireland – led by senior manager Michael O'Neill – see the under-17 group as being the standard bearers as he tries to build a team that will compete in all future World Cup and European Championship campaigns.
"We do think that this is a good squad and most of them are with cross-channel clubs," said Robinson, whose team will take on Latvia at Stangmore Park this evening.
"We reached the Elite phase last year and it's a while since Northern Ireland have qualified two years in a row, so that's the challenge for us.
"Our recent form is good. We did very well in the tournament we went to in Poland in August and we'll approach these games with confidence.
"This is the one group that we are really hoping can do well and start to build momentum as they develop and move through the age groups.
"That's why Michael O'Neill prioritised the under-17s this week with me here and Jim Magilton going with the under-21s.
"We are already seeing the fruits of our labour with players from last year's under-17s moving on to the under-19s and Liam Donnelly has been pushed through to the under-21s.
"We can't control what happens at their clubs, but we have more across the water at this age than we have for a while and that is very positive."
Magilton, the Irish FA's Elite Performance Director, has taken a full-strength squad to Italy for the under-21s' European Championship qualifier.
Included for the first time at that age group is Cameron McGeehan, who captained Norwich City to FA Youth Cup glory last season, when they beat his old club Chelsea in the final.
UNDER-17 FIXTURES: Thursday November 14: Turkey v Luxembourg (Shamrock Park, Portadown, 2pm); Northern Ireland v Latvia, Stangmore Park, Dungannon, 7pm). Saturday November 16: Latvia v Turkey (Solitude, 2pm); Northern Ireland v Luxembourg (Solitude, 7pm). Tuesday November 19: Luxembourg v Latvia, Shamrock Park, Portadown 2pm); Turkey v Northern Ireland, (Stangmore Park, Dungannon 2pm)