Belfast Telegraph

Jim Boyce hopes to sign off from FIFA role with Regions Cup success for Northern Ireland after Harry's boys progress to the final stages

By Keith Bailie

Michael O'Neill's senior international squad aren't the only Northern Ireland team that can cause an upset on foreign soil. Harry McConkey's Eastern Region side have shocked well-regarded Catalonia in Macedonia to qualify for the finals of the UEFA Regions Cup.

On Saturday afternoon, Northern Ireland's amateur international team beat the Spanish representatives Catalonia 1-0 thanks to a goal from Dollingstown striker Richard Thompson. That 1-0 win meant Northern Ireland topped their group and qualified for the finals of the Regions Cup for the second time in a row.

Manager Harry McConkey said: "This is a fantastic victory. We are happy because we won against a strong team. Catalonia played very well, and our guys were nervous. But we showed character, we played with our hearts. This is a big win for our small region. We loved it in Moldova. The organisation was at a high level."

Northern Ireland started their Group Five campaign on Tuesday with a stunning 5-1 victory over their Macedonian hosts.

Armagh City man Stephen Murray gave the Ulstermen the lead in the 24th minute before Thompson doubled their advantage in the 38th minute. Gheorghe Rotaru pulled one back from the spot in first half stoppage time, but that didn't stop Northern Ireland from claiming the win. Second half goals from Murray, Thompson and Armagh midfielder Eamon Kelly gave McConkey's men a resounding 5-1 win.

There was another comfortable win for Harry's boys on Wednesday, when they hammered Ukraine 4-0. Immaculata man Colm O'Riordan gave Northern Ireland the lead in the 25th minute before Stephen Murray made it 2-0 in the 33rd minute. Late goals from Murray and Thompson gave Northern Ireland an easy win.

With both teams on six points, Saturday's game between Northern Ireland and Catalonia became the decisive fixture in the group. As the Spaniards had hammered the hosts 10-0, McConkey's men knew they needed to win to qualify.

Dollingstown star Richard Thompson grabbed the winning goal in the ninth minute, but the vital three points didn't come easily for Northern Ireland. The Spanish sides 20 shots at goal with Carrick Rangers goalkeeper Brian Neeson making nine saves.

The finals of the competition is expected to take place in May or June of 2015. So far Northern Ireland, Germany and Poland have qualified for the last eight, but the other five spots remain unknown. The hosts will be decided when all eight finalists are known.

FIFA Vice-President Jim Boyce: “As Chairman of the UEFA Youth and Amateur Committee it gives me great pleasure to hear of Harry McConkey's teams qualification for the finals. To go through a group of three matches scoring 10 goals with only one against is a great achievement.

“Nothing would give me more pleasure than to be handing the winners medals and cup to Northern Ireland in the final next year."

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