Northern Ireland hosting Euro U19 finals a 'huge opportunity' - O'Neill

NI manager Michael O'Neill, Uefa ambassador Glen Johnson and tournament ambassador Aaron Hughes at the tournament launch
NI manager Michael O'Neill, Uefa ambassador Glen Johnson and tournament ambassador Aaron Hughes at the tournament launch

Northern Ireland staging the Euro U19 finals next year is a major boost for its young players, according to senior boss Michael O'Neill.

Eight teams will compete at four venues over 14 days with the 1 August final at Windsor Park in Belfast.

"It's fabulous - the best seven teams in Europe and ourselves will be there so it's a huge opportunity for our young players," said O'Neill.

"It will help them if and when they get the chance at senior level."

The 2020 European U19 Championship was officially launched in Belfast on Wednesday with former England and Liverpool defender Glen Johnson present as a Uefa ambassador along with former NI defender Aaron Hughes, who is the tournament ambassador.

Ballymena Showgrounds, Mourneview Park in Lurgan and Portadown's Shamrock Park are the other venues for the 16-match tournament, which will be held over 14 days.

NI U19 midfielder Ethan Galbraith in action for Manchester United at last month's Super Cup NI
NI U19 midfielder Ethan Galbraith in action for Manchester United at last month's Super Cup NI

The numerous stars to have played in the tournament include Paul Scholes, Sergio Ramos, Thierry Henry and Kylian Mbappe.

O'Neill believes the NI youth system is the perfect pathway for U19 players to progress to the senior set-up.

"We do more work with our young players than any other association as they have professional clubs," he added.

"The clubs develop the players for them but for us we have to put that bit extra in to give the players the chance to ultimately have a professional career.

"We are seeing a general progression of players coming through the different age groups and obviously knocking on the door of the senior team.

"In this age group we have Ethan Galbraith at Manchester United, who is a fantastic young player and Chelsea's Sam McClelland also has a huge future."

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