Belfast Telegraph

Marlin's delight as Northern Ireland post first Centenary Shield win

By Keith Bailie

Northern Ireland's Under 18 Schoolboys managed something that Michael O'Neill's men couldn't muster last week.

The Schoolboys defeated Scotland 2-0 at Comber Rec's Park Way ground in an entertaining encounter on Friday night. Goals from Coleraine's Brad Lyons and Armagh City's Andrew Hoey gave the Ulstermen their first victory the Centenary Shield.

Earlier in the campaign, Northern Ireland drew 1-1 with England and lost at Ferney Park to the Republic of Ireland.

Reflecting on the tournament so far, joint-manager Conor Marlin said: "It's nice for the boys to finally get three points after all their efforts. We played some fantastic football against both England and the Republic of Ireland but we weren't able to win, so this Scotland result means the world to us.

"I really feel we have had no luck in the this tournament. We've hit the woodwork on numerous occasions, we conceded a couple of penalties, we've had one cleared off the line. Against Scotland, our hard work got its reward and we put in an excellent performance to get the points.

"Andy Hoey's goal was particularly impressive. The two wing-backs linked up well to set Andy up. It shows you what we're capable of."

Northern Ireland will bring their campaign to a close next month, when they travel to Wales. Marlin, who manages the side along with former Bangor boss Frank Wilson, pointed out that the Ulstermen could still win a share of the trophy.

"It's slightly frustrating for the boys, because they could be sitting at the top of table with nine points if things had gone their way, but you don't always get what you deserve in football. If we can beat Wales away on April 17, that will give us seven points, which could be enough to win a share of the trophy.

"The truth is, we won't know what way things will stand until just before the final game. Regardless of where we finish in the table, the boys have performed extremely well and they have played some superb football. They can be proud of their efforts – some of them will be in contention for Stephen Craigan's Under 19 team."

Craigan's side also had a great result over the weekend. Northern Ireland's Under 19s drew 1-1 with the Netherlands in a friendly international at the Sportpark Zegersloot, with Stevenage's Ben Kennedy getting on the score sheet.

Manager Craigan said: "I'm delighted with the performance of the players, considering it's our first game together as a group in 14 months. It was a tough night physically for the players, but they stuck to their task and it's a great learning curve for them. They've set a marker down for the year ahead, in terms of work ethic and performance."

With good results at Under 19, Under 17 and Schoolboy level in recent weeks, there is certainly of plenty of reasons for optimism for fans of Northern Irish football.

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