Stephen Robinson hails boys despite failure to clinch Shield
Stephen Robinson praised his Northern Ireland under-16s for "coming a long way in a short space of time" but admitted that the country still has a long way to go.
The youngsters were in with a chance of getting their hands on the Victory Shield for just the second time in Northern Ireland's history - having previously won it back in 2000 - but they went down 2-0 to Wales when a win would have given them a share of the trophy.
After threatening early on, with Dylan Davidson in particular causing problems for the Welsh defence as he shot over the bar and sent a header wide, both in the first eight minutes, Northern Ireland were undone by two quality finishes.
Wales captain Tyler Roberts scored a header after 28 minutes and winger Liam Cullen produced a superb finish in the 64th minute to give Wales the Victory Shield for the first time in 66 years.
"We are disappointed because we started brightly, played well in the first 10 or 15 minutes, should have had a penalty and had another good chance to score," said Robinson.
"Then we started to lose a bit of belief and began to panic.
"Sadly it was our worst performance of the three games, but credit to these boys because they have come a long way in a short space of time.
"I'm very pleased overall. It has been a positive first step in international football for these boys and hopefully they can use this experience to help them further their careers."
In between Davidson's two efforts, Northern Ireland had strong claims for a penalty when Liam McKenna had his shirt pulled in the box as he attempted to connect with a corner, but after that Wales came more and more into the game and after Conal Fagan had cleared off the line when goalkeeper Matthew Davidson spilled Roberts' shot, Wales grabbed the lead.
Northern Ireland captain Cromac Lawlor fouled Cullen close to the touchline on the Welsh left, Max Smallcombe swung the free-kick into the box and Roberts' flicked header from six yards beat Davidson.
Cullen then scored the second when he came in off the right wing, beat Christopher Crane and curled a beautiful effort into the bottom corner of the net, just beyond Davidson's outstretched arm.
"Even if we'd have won the Victory Shield it wouldn't have changed anything," said Robinson.
"We still have a long way to go, we are
working off a blank canvas, we are still a fair distance behind other countries and we have to work hard to catch up.
"The next step for these boys is the under-17 Euro qualifiers. I will be there with them, but they have to show that they are good enough to be there."
NORTHERN IRELAND: M Davidson, Lawlor, White, McKenna, Fagan, Crane, Gallagher, Lynch, D Davidson, Mallon, Cassidy. Subs: Larkin, Galashan, Sterling, Sharvin, Carolan, Parkhouse, McGinley, McCourt, Roscoe, Hughes, Burns.
WALES: Coughlan, Llewellyn, Willams, Angel, Jefferies, Smallcombe, Proctor, Smith, Roberts, Woodburn, Cullen. Subs: Przbek, Lewitt, Burton, Sosani, Phillips, Ampadu, Evans.
Referee: Steven Taylor.