Harry's Northern Ireland boys set for tough Regions Cup task
Harry McConkey's UEFA Regions Cup team are currently in Moldova preparing for the opening match of the pan-European Amateur tournament.
The competition brings together the best Amateur footballers from all over the continent. In 2013, McConkey's men reached the quarter-finals, winning through two qualification groups on the way, but they may have their work cut out this year.
In the opening round of the competition, the Eastern Region face AFR Telenesti of Moldova, AF Piatykhatska of Ukraine and the highly-fancied Seleccion Catalana from Spain.
McConkey's men start with the hosts at 2pm on Tuesday in the CPSM Stadium in Vadul lui Voda. They then play the Ukrainians in the District Sports Complex in Orhei at 2pm on Thursday, before facing the Spaniards in the Dinamo Auto stadium in Ternovca on Saturday, also at 2pm UK time.
Manager McConkey has confessed that the last few weeks have been quite stressful with the majority of his squad involved in competitive matches this weekend: “It's been a tough few of weeks for us because we've had a couple of injuries and drop outs, which is never ideal.
“It's a nervous wait for me as I never really know for certain who I'm going to have in my squad until we leave for the airport.
“With a full set of Championship fixtures on Saturday, it's far from ideal. Personally, I think for future seasons we shouldn't schedule matches the day before we fly out. We're playing Moldova on Tuesday and they've had four or five days together in a training camp, before the tournament. That sort of preparation gives them an advantage.
“We've got a very difficult draw with the lads from Catalonia in our group, but we've got a good squad this year and I'm sure we will be match for anyone.”
McConkey will have to do without Ballyclare Comrades ace Chris Trussell, who has been in fine goal-scoring form this season.
“Losing Chris Trussell was a huge blow for us as he's a big top at this level. He picked up an ankle injury in training which meant he wasn't going to be fit for the tournament. We could have taken a risk and brought him to Moldova, but we thought it better to take somebody who was fully fit. It's a shame for Chris because he loves playing for our team.
“We've also lost Gary Warwick who decided to stay at home and concentrate on getting his place at Ards. Larne's Paul Maguire was another option, but Paul couldn't afford the time off work, which is totally understandable.
“We've called in Colum Curtis from Loughgall and Colm O'Riordan from Immaculata have been brought into the squad. They're two fantastic talents and I'm confident they will do a great job for us.”
Next week's edition of The Park will feature a full review of Northern Ireland's progress in the UEFA Regions Cup.
Belfast Telegraph Digital