The League of Ireland will return to the international stage after the Football Association of Ireland today confirmed that the Republic of Ireland will be entering a team into the Under-23 International Challenge Trophy. The Republic of Ireland squad will be selected from players under the age of 23 currently playing in the League of Ireland.
Ten countries have confirmed their participation in the tournament, which will run until spring 2011. The draw for the International Challenge Trophy will take place at a meeting of participating Football Associations in Dublin tomorrow. Teams will be drawn into three groups, two of four countries and one of three. The position of manager of the Republic of Ireland Under-23 team will be confirmed over the coming weeks.
The Republic of Ireland‚Äôs participation in the International Challenge Trophy is an important aspect of the FAI‚Äôs commitment to promoting and developing the League of Ireland. While tournament rules allow squads to be picked from players based outside the domestic league, the FAI has opted to select only players based in the League of Ireland in order to give young players in the league added experience and exposure.
This will be the second International Challenge Trophy, following the campaign which commenced in November 2007 and ran until May of this year. The Republic of Ireland side performed excellently in the competition, defeating Slovakia and Northern Ireland before narrowly missing out qualification to the final after losing 2-1 to eventual competition winners Belgium.
Players involved in the last tournament - including David Mooney, Seamus Coleman, Stephen Rice, Killian Brennan and Paul Keegan - have gone on to establish themselves at clubs at home and abroad.
The International Challenge Trophy has been expanded from eight to eleven teams for the upcoming tournament. Participating countries are as follows:
Belgium, England, Estonia, Italy, Malta, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Wales
Squads will be restricted to players under the age of 23 who have not won senior international honours.
Fran Gavin, Director of the League of Ireland, said that the International Challenge Trophy would give young League of Ireland players another opportunity to impress on the international stage:
‚ÄúThe International Challenge Trophy is a fantastic opportunity for young players in the League of Ireland to test themselves against very good players from across Europe. We were very happy with how our team performed in the last tournament, with only a last minute goal from a strong Belgium side denying us a place in the final. Our clubs have performed very well in European competition over recent years and the International Challenge Trophy allows us to select some of our brightest young talents and perform as a league on the international stage.‚ÄĚ
Pat Duffy, who is vice-chairperson of the International Challenge Trophy, said that International Challenge Trophy offers important experience for young League of Ireland players.
‚ÄúPlayers who featured in the last competition have gone on to establish themselves as key players in teams at home and abroad. We have some tremendously talented young players in the League of Ireland and the International Challenge Trophy allows us to showcase that talent. The FAI‚Äôs decision to enter into the tournament is a fantastic boost for the League of Ireland. I would like to thank John Delaney and the International Committee for their commitment to the International Challenge Trophy.‚ÄĚ
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