Belfast Telegraph

Jim Magilton tells kids to seize moment

Under-21 International

By Stuart McKinley

Jim Magilton has warned Northern Ireland's next generation of international footballers that they can't afford to think they have made it already.

The former international captain, who is now the Irish FA's Elite Performance Director, has advised the current under-21 squad to use every game as a learning experience if they want to achieve the ultimate goal of playing for the senior team.

Magilton will lead the youngsters into a European Championship qualifier against Italy at Mourneview Park this afternoon (4pm) and the challenge is to match the performance from their last outing, when they beat Cyprus 1-0.

"It's a great opportunity for our young players to go and play against a really top-class side," said Magilton, who was capped 52 times during his international career.

"This is very much a learning curve for a lot of these young players. Really, this is where they will make their mistakes.

"It's all part of their footballing education. Whilst at 21 they probably think they have cracked it, but they most certainly haven't."

The difficulty for Magilton is that he must try to beat the Italians, who won the previous meeting 3-0 just a few days before that victory over Cyprus, with only one player who has scored at under-21 level.

James Gray – son of Magilton's former international team-mate Philip – has scored twice in 10 appearance, while the goal that beat the Cypriots was taken off Johnny Gorman and went down as an own goal.

"When we played them in Reggiana we were very good for periods of the game," said Magilton.

"They scored a fantastic free-kick and for the next 70 minutes we were competitive.

"We were right in the game, we limited them to very few chances.

"James Gray had a wonderful chance just before half time to draw us level, but it didn't happen.

"Then we got punished for two poor mistakes. If you do that against top-class opposition you will get punished and I think it was a very harsh result."

Magilton saw enough in the two games, particularly against Cyprus, to have confidence ahead of facing the Italians again.

"There was a lot of good football played, we experimented with a new system and the players adapted really, really well," he said.

"What was more creditable for me was the home game against Cyprus.

"It's a long 10 days to be away, but the information they took in, their attitude and application to training was top notch.

"We won the game with Johnny Gorman's free-kick and I thought some of the football we played again that night was fantastic."

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