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O'Neill backs new IFA plan to unearth talented kids

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has hailed a new Irish Football Association initiative aimed at uncovering more young footballing talent for future national teams.

The IFA and leading sports fashion retailer JD have joined together to launch the project which will offer children at under-13, 14 and 15 levels the chance to become part of Club NI, an Elite Performance programme run by Northern Ireland football's governing body.

The initiative offers a platform to discover, nurture and develop footballing talent from across the country and hopes to attract sportspeople yet to have considered taking up football.

Interested kids need to download the IFA.JD app or enter in-store at any of the 14 JD stores across Northern Ireland.

Players will be invited to be part of training camps in May, before qualifying for further rounds in June and July.

Belfast (May 21), Londonderry (May 22), Newry (May 28) and Omagh (May 29) will play host to more than 600 selected children for training camps where they will be under the watchful eye of IFA professional coaching staff.

The coaches will then select eight to 10 finalists for each age group to progress to a JD Club NI training camp which will be rounded off with a match against the current Club NI squad.

Jim Magilton, the Elite Performance Director of the IFA, is right behind the 'Want To Play For Northern Ireland?' idea, as is O'Neill.

He said: "It is exciting to have JD on board as a supporter of this opportunity as it will allow us to reach a wide range of sporting talent.

"When I was appointed Northern Ireland manager I had a very limited number of players to select my squad from. I began to look very closely at the development pathway in place for our young players in Northern Ireland as this is fundamental to the success of our national team.

"This opportunity for kids to showcase their talents is fantastic for Northern Ireland football."

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