Stephen Robinson looking to nurture talents of Northern Ireland's future stars
Northern Ireland youth coach Stephen Robinson believes the Irish FA will focus its attentions on footballers under the age of 16.
The former Luton Town man, who is the manager of Northern Ireland's Under-17s, is hoping to develop players at home, before they sign for English clubs.
The former international explained: “It's all about putting structures in place that allow us to make the most of talented youngsters.
“By the time our boys get to 16, they're already in England, and at the point we have little control over them and how much football they play. Sadly, a lot of those players don't make the grade and once they are released by their English clubs, many of them drop out of football altogether.
“It's not a case of returning home and becoming a star in the Irish League. Only a small percentage of Irish League players are under 24, so it's difficult for young players to break into what is essentially a man's league.
“So we're focusing on and developing players between the ages of 11 and 16, so they're better prepared for professional football. We want to improve their technique, but also their mentality.”
Robinson's Under-17 squad play the Czech Republic on Tuesday at Stangmore Park in Dungannon (7pm) before facing them again in a second friendly on Thursday at Mill Meadown in Castledawson.
Robinson believes it will give this group of players a good chance to showcase their talents before September's qualifying games.
“This group won eight of their 12 games last year and they were unfortunate not to qualify for the European Championships, so they're a group we rate highly.
“They're now essentially our Under-18s, as this will be their last game before moving up to Under-19 level. These two games will give myself and Stephen Craigan a good opportunity to look at the lads before picking our squad for the qualifiers later in the year.
“The Czech Republic are a good side, who always produce physically strong players, so it will be a tough test for the lads.
“I'd expect a number of these boys to playing for the Under-19s next season.”
Robinson is hoping to introduce a new group of players to the Under-17 squad before they take on Turkey, Slovenia and Portugal in September's qualifying games.
He explained: “We're currently working with a new group of lads that will become the Under-17s next season. The Irish FA now have control of the Under-16 schoolboy team, and I'll be coaching them along with David Healy. Stephen Craigan will take charge of the Under-19s, while I expect that Jim Magilton will take charge of the Under-21s.
“We now have a group of coaches who have all played football at the highest level and we've a structure in place that was never there before. This is the start of a process and it will be a long time before we see the benefits of it, but things are moving in the right direction.”
Goalkeepers: Conor Hazard (Cliftonville), Brett Long (Motherwell)
Defenders: Mark Edgar (Blackburn Rovers), Ben Hall (Motherwell) Michael Newberry (Newcastle United), Cormac Deery (Torquay United), Scott Whiteside (Glasgow Rangers), Seanna Foster (Sheffield Wednesday), Levi Ives (Torquay United)
Midfielders: Chris Paul (Tottenham Hotspur), Josh Lynch (Torquay United), Glenn Law (Sheffield Wednesday), Ben Doherty (Maiden City), Jordan Thompson (Manchester United), Gary Lavery (Cardiff City), Stephen Fallon (Swansea City)
Forwards: Adam Salley (Linfield), Andrew Mooney (Cliftonville), Emmett Hargan (Oxford United), Andrew Hoey (Glenavon)