Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Northern Ireland U21s aim to slay dragons

Portadown begin their defence of the Co-operative Insurance Cup with a third round, first leg battle against Crusaders at Shamrock Park tomorrow but manager Ronnie McFall had international football on his mind yesterday.

The veteran boss is hoping to guide his young Northern Ireland squad to glory in the Under- 23 International Challenge Trophy.

Players from ten Carling Premiership clubs are included in the panel of 23 players ahead of the first game against Wales on Tuesday, November 24 at Shamrock Park.

Portadown's Ross Redman, who is expected to get to grips with the Crues tomorrow, is thrilled to step onto the international stage.

“To represent your country at any level is very exciting,” he said.

“We are all looking forward to this tournament as it allows more people to see what the IFA Premiership has to offer.

“To play against players from other countries, such as those in the Portuguese League, will be a tough test but it is one that we are really looking forward to.”

Crusaders duo Jordan Owens and Chris Keenan are included in the panel though Martin Donnelly is excluded.

Keenan will miss tomorrow’s fixture after his dismissal against Coleraine on Tuesday night.

Also in the squad is Glenavon’s Ryan Harpur.

“I'm very proud to be called up to represent the IFA Premiership,” he said. “It is a great opportunity for us to challenge ourselves against other leagues across Europe, and from playing against Llanelli previously I know that the standard of our opposition is high.”

McFall knows that the domestic game is often heavily criticised but he hopes his young guns can lift the profile of the league.

“I am looking forward to the matches and hoping it will raise the profile of the Premiership players and clubs,” he said.

“This tournament is a fantastic opportunity for the young players in the Carling Premiership to perform on a bigger stage.

“Several of the players have represented Northern Ireland at various youth levels, and that experience will help them throughout the competition and in particular when we travel to Poland and Portugal later in the group.

“It is important to get off to a winning start in the group, but we know that Wales will provide stiff opposition for us.

“From experience of playing pre-season friendly matches against Welsh opposition, I know that both leagues are of a similar standard so the game itself should be a close encounter.”

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