A historic day for Irish football looms as Cork City’s U19s welcome one of Finland’s HJK Helsinki to Turner’s Cross for the second leg of their UEFA Youth League first round tie.
Stephen Bermingham’s side grabbed a hugely important 0-0 draw away to the Finns late last month and will be looking to book a tie against AS Roma in the next round of the competition.
The UEFA Youth League Cork City U19s, also known as the U19s Champions League, were included in the Domestic Path draw as reigning League of Ireland champions following completion of the qualifying rounds of the senior competition back in August. On the other side of the competition, Manchester City entertain Barcelona and Real Madrid take on Legia Warsaw.
This is the first time a League of Ireland club has competed in Europe at an underage level, marking another milestone in the development of U19 National League.
Speaking ahead of the game, winger Chiedozie Ogbene was buzzing with the game; praising the hard work and team ethic that Stephen Bermingham’s side is known for.
“Everyone has been working really hard in recent weeks. We all have the same aim and that’s trying to win games. We all help each other out, that’s why we’ve been doing so well for the past year I think – we encourage each other, we train as a team and there’s a great atmosphere in the dressing room.
“This team, we’re just like a family. We’re looking forward to the game on Wednesday obviously, knowing that we’re the first team in Ireland to get into (the UEFA Youth League). It means we’re representing the whole country. That’s a great experience for any young person and not a chance that many people get. We’ve been training hard and I believe that we’re ready to go.”
Despite being relative unknowns in the competition, Bermingham’s side played well, and were very unlucky not to go home with an away goal when Kevin Taylors fantastic free kick hit the crossbar.
Ogbene however, was wary of the Finnish opposition, taking no chances as, “HJK are a great team. They’re tidy on the ball. They like to keep possession and play nice football but I think when we pressed high, they panicked a small bit.
“It seemed like they underestimated us for the match in Helsinki, and most teams would to be fair, as it was our first time in the competition so they don’t know who we were. But we played well over there, we pressed high and we all worked really hard. That’s why we were delighted to come out with the 0-0 draw. It wasn’t easy but we did it and now we’re looking forward to Wednesday.”
On a personal level, this has been a huge few weeks for the 18 year old winger who has recently made the breakthrough to John Caulfield’s senior squad and has grabbed his first senior goal in a 5-0 rout of Galway United.
“It’s all rainbows and sunshine for me at the moment but it comes down to hard work, what you do in training and the effort you put in. It’s always great when you suddenly get your chance and take it, and thanks for John (Caulfield) for the opportunity.
“You give up so much of your time between training and matches that you miss a lot of time for other things. But this is football – whatever you put in, you get out – so I’m really happy with how things have gone the last couple of months.”
Tickets for Wednesday evening’s game are priced at €5 for Adults and €1 for U16s and are available from Ticketmaster.ie. We wish Cork City FC Under 19s the very best in their UEFA Youth League campaign.