Portadown thirds’ first experience of the Irish League’s top-flight youth division will kick off tomorrow (Saturday) with an away date at the defending Section A champions.
The most difficult introduction possible on paper will hand the Shamrock Park teenagers a rapid initiation into the NIFL Youth League’s senior stage.
It will present a clash between the two current Irish League grassroots champions - with Portadown marching out of Section B having scored more goals than any other side last season across the 21-team structure.
Chris Wright, manager of the thirds, is relishing the forthcoming campaign as an opportunity to enhance player development within the Shamrock Park junior ranks.
“It is not about results at this level but about bringing players forward,” said Wright. “The wonderful reward now for last season’s promotion is the chance for our boys to go up against the best in the country each week.
“The positive will come down to each individual testing his own progress against the top teams and that will bring its own challenges and experiences.
“Of course there is a step-up between the two divisions but it is exciting and a great opportunity to continue our work.
“It does not really hold any weight that we go into the weekend as winners of last season’s Section B title.
“Our squad has changed from last season to this thanks to players moving up to continue developing with the club’s reserves or around the firsts.
“That is the ultimate objective, to promote players, not results in any game.”
However, Wright accepts the natural competitive characteristics will emerge after the first whistle.
“We are all looking forward to the challenge and it comes down to trust,” said Wright. “I trust this squad and have total belief that they show the correct attitude to get the most out of this season.
“Every matchday will offer a different experience and test for what remains a young group.
“The big difference will be how any mistake could cost a goal.
“Errors made in Section B that maybe did not get punished will now result in a goal against more often.
“It is all part of the players’ learning process and another benefit for the club overall is that now the gap has been reduced between the standard of the thirds and reserves.
“That can only help our overall transition process up the ranks.”
Kick-off tomorrow (Saturday)in Belfast will be 2 o’clock.
Portadown reserves’ latest league outing resulted in a 3-0 defeat by Linfield.
“We have signed goalkeeper Conor Larkin from Armagh City and he is part of an exciting group,” said Gary McCullough, manager of Portadown reserves. “He is from the town and has Milk Cup and youth international experience, plus knows plenty of our squad.
“It is great to have him on board.”