The Republic of Ireland U19s kicked off their UEFA U19 Championships Elite Qualifying Round brilliantly with a 2-0 away victory over Italy thanks to a brilliant finish from Wexford man Conor Levingston and a penalty from Belfast's Ronan Hale.
Hale scored a cracker to beat Portugal last month in a friendly and it is evident that Tom Mohan's team have continued on their good form, going close with several chances before finally breaking the deadlock in the 34th minute. Then, when Trevor Clarke was fouled by Italy's Marco Varnier, Hale sealed the win.
Mohan said after the match (quotes from the Irish Times):
Italy were always a threat in the second half but our forwards looked very good too. Our midfield were dominant in the first half and we were a threat in wide areas so we put it up to Italy. The Italians came out all guns blazing to equalise but our defence was outstanding in that period.
Caoimhin (Kelleher, in nets) dealt with what they threw at us but our defence forced them to shoot from distance. Our defenders were excellent.
Hale - who scored 29 goals in his first full season with Birmingham's U18s, including five goals in one match against Leeds - spoke the other day about his pride in playing for the Republic rather than Northern Ireland. He's already proving himself to be a valuable asset.