NI boost for youth plan

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (right) with Aaron McNeill at last week's Portadown Youth presentation.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (right) with Aaron McNeill at last week's Portadown Youth presentation.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has given his backing to the “refreshing” grassroots plan put in place by Portadown Youth.

O’Neill was a special guest last week at the presentation by Aaron McNeill designed to revamp youth development football within the area.

“It was a refreshing presentation by Aaron,” said O’Neill. “The focus is on the development of the individual over the team and about producing players technically proficient from an underage level.

“We have a responsibility within the Irish Football Association to develop players and need to address our domestic league.

“We are not seeing enough players progress into a full-time career from the Irish League, with Gareth McAuley probably the last from my international squad and that was 10 years ago.

“We need to concentrate more on player development within the domestic league and I think fans will respond to watching homegrown talent.

“When I broke into the Coleraine side at 15 years old or so I was then in England about two years later.

“You look at someone like Shea Conaty with Portadown who is making inroads in the Irish League and within our international youth system.

“A good example is how the profile has changed within Scotland of teenagers consistently playing senior football.

“We have to build a league which gives players a choice to stay and continue to develop or, if appropriate, go to England.

“A strong underage programme can put the building blocks in place and, ultimately, it is about giving young players opportunities at first-team level.