With all the excitement of the Champions League, The Europa League and the Football League play-oofs we have an important tournament taking place in Ireland, the UEFA u17's championships now about to reach the semi-final stages, and places at the FIFA u17s World Championsghips to be held in Brazil later this year at stake.
I always enjoy this tournament with up and coming players willing to play with joy and no cynical carryings on that you see in the professioanl game. Ireland last hosted the tournament in 1994 when it was under 16 level, and won it four years later in Scotland when a youngster called John O'Shea made his name . His team topped a group including Spain and then beat Denmark and Portugal in the quarters and semis and took care of Italy 2-1 in the final.
All the players and officials are housed in a luxury hotel complex in South Dublin for the first time. One thing I did not like was the fact that they had discontinued double headers and it was hard to get around Dublin to see two matches in an afternoon or evening.
There has been a lot of negative news in recent months and years surrounding the FAI (The Football Association of Ireland), and in particular its larger than life chief executive John Delaney whose salary dwarfs the prize money for the entire League of Ireland. Under17 coach Kevin Doyle said that the scandals were a stain on everybody and could result in a loss of income from Irish Sports and sponsors.
The entire board of the FAI resigned after Delaney appeared before the Oireachtas(parliament commission) after it emerged that he had made a short term loan to the FAI of E100,000 and that on top of his E300,00 or so salary he was also given snd extra E36,000 housing allowance, despite 10% cuts in other employees wages. In addition he earns about E400,000 from his few days working on UEFA projects and meetings. FAT CAT INDEED !
One of the first matches, between England and France at City Calling Stadium in Longford, was delayed when the officials were first driven to THE WRONG TOWN ,to Athlone, a GAA stronghold where the stadium pitch is twice the size of a soccer pitch.
Apart from that we had some nice weather and friendly volunteers plus MASSIVE money from UEFA to get the ball rolling.
During a year I go to about 100 matches at all levels from the pros to the amateurs and the youth but England's second match versus The Netherlands at Tolka Park, home of Shelbourne FC is as good as it gets. England are World Champions while The Oranje are defending European champions from last year in England after they had defeated the hosts earlier. Matches are now 2 x 45 minutes, up from 40 minutes and 5 substitutes are allowed per match. Delightful attacking and crisp passing from both teams. The Dutch started 5 Ajax boys and The Three Lions had 4 from Man City at kick off.
England took the lead but by half time the Dutch led 3-2 and finished of 5-2 and worthy winners in front of an appreciative crowd of 2,411. Despite beating Sweden 3-1 in their third group match the World Champions were out.
. Less than 1 kilometre away is HOME FARM a legendary youth club which even have a mention in The Guinness Book of Records. I went to a noon time match at their neat little ground for Iceland v Hungary. Children are allowed in free and prior to the tournament the local school teach them about the competing countries who will play nearby. Why they used two nearby stadiums is a strange decision.
Not the same feast of football but very competitive with both teams having a few dozen chanting fans, presumably parents of the players. chanting EESLAND ! , EESLAND ! and HUNGARIA ! HUNGARIA !. A great atmosphre with the young Magyars winning with a penaly in the 90th minute 3-2.
Yet another screw up when official porgrammes which have photos and information on all teams, were not available at stadiums for kids to collect and get autographs.
Both France and The Netherlands have reached the semis and a trip to Brazil, while Italy v Portugal and Hungary v Spain are about to kick off for the same prize of a trip to Latin Americ.
AND THE SHOW GOES ON !